London Loves

London has been in the news way too much recently, for all the wrong reasons. So I wanted to make a space where we celebrate the London we know- not the one that’s full of tragedy and police tape. Every … Continue reading

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The British Museum – 11/01/20

It’s hard to make this month pass, isn’t it? The kids have only been back at school for three days and it’s the weekend already again. So any glimmer of entertainment hope is welcome and Eva’s new obsession with the Egyptians was one such glimmer of hope. We could fritter away a grey afternoon in the British Museum for not much money and not much effort. Hooray!

And Eva was suitably dressed in her version of a Pharaoh costume. I’d like to point out that this happened while Roo and I were out at the sorting office this morning. In other words, it’s clearly Nathan’s fault that our daughter was leaving the house in January in flipflops.

I’d thought Central London would be packed out on a Saturday afternoon but Russell Square tube was actually spookily quiet. We had the lift entirely to ourselves:

On the way to the museum, we spotted this blue plaque for Emmeline Pankhurst:

Eva knew she was something to do with votes for women but pronounced “suffragette” with a hard g. Adorable. We wandered across Russell Square, stopping to look at the two Bug Hotels and some good dogs. There was a cafe in the middle that was established in the same year as I was but we weren’t going to stop for coffee just yet.

Last time we visited, I remember having to go in through the back of the museum. I had no idea if we still had to do that but it was the closest entrance and there wasn’t a massive queue so we decided to go that way. It’s not as grand as the front entrance but Eva said it had “Roman-Greek pillars” because apparently the Romans stole the idea from the Greeks. She’s full of these little tidbits.

And also, she did not appreciate it when I pointed out some new “Roman-Greek pillars” that were ready to be added. I think she rolled her eyes at me:

The queue and bag check were pretty swift and once we’d got inside, it was then time to stop for coffee. It was Eva’s idea but I wasn’t going to say no. We had a latte and a millionaire’s shortcake under the “criss-cross ceiling” as Eva called it:

By 3ish, we probably needed to start our day out so we headed to Room 4 – Egyptian sculpture. It was a good call because Eva thought everything was “amazing” and couldn’t believe how many Egyptian things could be in one room. She spent lots of time looking at the hieroglyphics and educating me about the Rosetta Stone. She’s learnt a lot in the last three days at school

I mean, just look how excited she was:

She was even more excited to learn that there were another four rooms of Egyptian stuff upstairs so we found the back stairs which led to the Mummies section. Eva had seen a picture of a mummified head in her library book about Egypt and it freaked her out so she asked not to go to any of the Egyptian death rooms. Which was tricky cause basically all the upstairs rooms were death-themed and contained lots of mummified things. But some discreet steering of her meant we avoided the corpses and only looked at the pretty, gold coated sarcophaguses (Eva’s term – should it be sarcophagi?) although she caught a glimpse of a skeleton that she didn’t yike. At least she didn’t walk straight through with her eyes shut like she did at the Museum of London.

We also spotted something else she’d seen in her book – an ancient Egyptian game called “Snake”. Presumably to be played on ancient Egyptian Nokia 3210s:

After that, we made our way through the Greek and Roman rooms, finding things that Eva yiked along the way, like some models of clay dogs:

And something that looked like the bust of Rowena Ravenclaw wearing her diadem:

I was kinda keen to head home after we’d done all the Egyptian rooms but Eva wanted to see everything the museum had to offer. I thought she’d change her mind if we were sitting right by the front doors but no, we sat by the front doors to have a snack and then she made me climb all the way back up to the third floor to go to the Medieval European rooms.

It’s unlike Eva to be keen on stair-climbing but she said she yuved the staircases because they made her feel like she was really going back in time “into a Roman house or an Egyptian temple”. That made me slightly reluctant to go to the Medieval bit in case we actually had gone back in time and we got Black Death or something. No fear – Eva had a solution and handed me an imaginary “anti-plague tablet” to swallow as we stepped into the gallery. That girl has an answer for everything but at least I convinced her to take the flip-flops off and put some shoes on because we weren’t in the “sandal era” anymore.

By this point, we were whipping through the galleries at top speed – Medieval Europe was followed by the Asia galleries (with a quick loo break next to Japan) and again, just as I thought we were going to head home, she told me we had more to see – she had seen a sign to the Africa gallery on the way in and we hadn’t been there yet. Problem was, we needed to be at the bottom of this hole:

Tempting as it was to just take the plunge, we took another way round and found the Africa galleries on level -1.

 

There were some giant masquerade puppets which Eva claimed to be allergic to because she sneezed as she walked past them and a wall of hats which she said were “all the hats in Africa”. It inspired her to sing a little song that sounded like a poor man’s Band Aid. It went something like this: “There are no more hats in Africa because they all are heeerrrreee”. Please donate generously.

We now only had two more stops on the itinerary – the classic end-of-visit combo of gift shop and toilets. Eva wanted a book about Egypt to call her own once she’d taken the other book back to the library. And I was happy about that because it’d keep her quiet on the tube but it turned out that she feel in yuv with a Cleopatra rubber duck and rejected every book option in favour of it. Good luck reading this all the way back to Highams Park:

She christened her Cleo-quack-ra and made duck noises all the way back instead. Ah well. At least it was a way of entertaining her all afternoon…

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The Wonder Factory – 03/01/20

Happy New Year! It seems crazy that we’re here in 2020 and I’m still blogging and haven’t yet got a blog-a-bot to do it for me but Reuben assures me the robot uprising is coming sometime this year so hopefully it’ll all be automated before I know it.

Till then, tho, a trip to Dalston. I’d heard a lot about the pop-up Wonder Factory art installation,  which takes pains to emphasise that it is not a kids’ play area although the promo shots of the marshmallow pool make it look darn similar to a kids’ play area. It is open to all ages though, so I was happy to take my kids along to the art installation. The location might be a touch obscure if you don’t pass it on the way to church like we do every week but essentially, get the train to Hackney Downs if you’re coming from Walthamstow direction and then it’s two stops on the 30/56 or ten minutes’ walk. It’s also close to Dalston Junction and Dalston Kingsland if you’re coming from a more South Londony direction or in fact any other direction that’s not on the Chingford branch.

Once you get closer, look out for the new development by the car park behind Matalan. Then follow the pink and blue signs:

Tickets are for timed 15-minute slots and the door only opens at those times but we managed to go in a few minutes early because the slot before us wasn’t overly full. There’s a buggy park as soon as you go in and we left the kids’ rucksacks there tho I wouldn’t leave any valuables or anything as it’s right by the front door and this is Hackney after all.

The installation is over two floors and there’s a path to follow round each. You start by crawling through a tunnel  – not ideal for anyone with restricted mobility but I think there might be a shortcut through in a different place. The kids could have stalled in the mirror tunnel for ages but I shuffled them on through because other people were waiting to start as well. It was pretty cool though:

We emerged from the tunnel into a beach hut, in a room filled with pinkish sand and walls of fluffy cloud. Again, we could have stayed and played for a long time in the sand but we were all curious to see what was next.

Darkness! Well, nearly – a black-walled room with only the smallest of twinkly lights to guide our way. “I’m walking on the moon” sighed Eva as we wandered through and came out in this neon tunnel, which was one of those moments made for Instagram. In fact, “‘grammable” is the word I’ve heard most often applied to the Wonder Factory and I can see why. Bloggable too.

The next room was similarly ‘grammable but only one of the kids was prepared to interact with this one. You can guess which kid:

A lot of the rooms really have to be experienced to be fully appreciated so I’m not going to spoiler everything here – you really should visit. Tickets are £9 each but we managed to find a 20% discount code, which helped.

Some more highlights though – you’ve already seen the marshmallow pool so that’s hardly a spoiler:

And the hall-of-mirrors room:

And there’s lots more as well. We spent around 45 minutes going round in all and could have spent longer if we hadn’t been so impatient to get to the next bit. The marshmallow pool was definitely the highlight and we spent most of our time there – it was big enough for three or four families to all be enjoying it at once so we didn’t feel like we had to move on too quickly. There are also some wooden sunloungers next to the pool to relax on, though they aren’t the most comfortable.

To get the full experience, I would definitely recommend checking it out yourself before it closes in February. For tickets and more information, click here

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London Aquatic Centre – 14/12/19

Yesterday was one of those rare Advent Saturdays without any commitments in the diary, other than an early morning appointment to get a smart meter fitted. So I decided we should do something as a family and the thing Reuben really wanted to do was to go swimming – that classic December activity. To be fair, we’d skipped out three weeks’ worth of swimming lessons because of various illnesses and school trips so he was owed a bit of swimming time. We also had some Christmas shopping to do, so the logical solution that occurred was one that probably wouldn’t have seemed logical to anyone else – go to Stratford, swim at the Aquatic Centre and shop at Westfield. Sorted.

I’ve meant to try out the Aquatic Centre for ages as we’ve often walked past the “Pringle Building” but never been inside. It’s not massively more expensive than a normal swim – £16 for the four of us – although the kids’ Better memberships only get them 30p off. Booking in advance is advisable and the main pool is limited to strong swimmers – you have to be over 8 and be able to swim 100m in a recognised stroke so Roo probably wouldn’t quite scrape in. As it happened, it was closed for a competition all day so we booked into the training pool and that suited us just fine.

The complicated bit was actually gettting in. First, we had to drag Eva past all the sparkly shops and a Santa’s grotto:

Then we had to negotiate the Stratford Wind Tunnel experience which almost made the kids take flight and almost stopped Nathan taking breath:

Then we had to find a way into the Pringle itself. I’d always assumed the entrance was somewhere around here:

But no, there was just some construction work going on. So we walked around the side:

Still nothing. At this point, I considered going back and checking whether that lift down to the riverside would be helpful but Roo had skipped off ahead down the stairs and there was no calling him back over the noise of the wind. So we carried on round:

Still no entrance, so we climbed back up the other side and found ourselves back where we started. And then we took the lift down a level and from there it was pretty obvious where the entrance was.

Once we were inside, it was slightly less windy – tho the papers on the reception desk were still getting blown about – and fairly straightforward. As instructed, we’d printed off 4 copies of the booking confirmation but only needed to show one and were waved through the barriers. You then walk through an eerie, blue-lit corridor with the competition pool to the right and the training pool (s) to the left and at the end of the corridor, you veer left to find the training pool changing village. There are a number of changing options – male, female, unisex and family – so caters for everyone  tho some slightly bigger lockers would have been nice.

You might wonder why I said pool(s) a moment ago or you may not have wondered at all. Well, either way I’m going to tell you. It’s because the training pool is one 50m pool but has a movable barrier halfway which can split it into 2x25m pools. And there’s a movable floor, so the two pools can be different depths! Well, I was impressed anyway. There’s a section in each of the pools that is free for family swimming (i.e. the bit that isn’t being used for lanes or lessons) so we started off in the pool that was 0.8m, which was perfect for Eva but a bit shallow for Roo and way too shallow for me. So Roo and I spent most of our time in the other pool, which was 1.2m and Nathan and Eva mainly stayed in the shallow one. I think Roo would ideally have liked it a little deeper so he could do some diving but I found it reassuring not having to worry about him being out of his depth for once. His favourite deep end  – at the Feel Good Centre – is 3m and trust me, it brings out all the anxieties.

It was a nice, quietish swim – plenty of room for Roo to do lengths and for Eva to splash about and do water-waltzing. We stayed in for about 50 minutes but it was lunchtime and we were all super hungry so decided to get out. I made an executive decision to have a snack before we even left the centre because the thought of dealing with the Westfield food court with post-swimming hanger was a bit…overwhelming.

It was a wise choice. The Westfield food court was everything you’d expect it to be. Still, it had Pizza Hut for Roo and McDonalds for Eva and not massively long waits for either. Just all a bit full-on.

Unlike the Christmas shopping experience in Westfield, right??

Wrong. Obviously, that was nightmarish too. We split the list into two and Nathan and Roo ended up with a load of male family members to buy for and Eva and I a load of female ones. Of course, I can’t reveal what was bought for anyone but Flying Tiger and Typo continue to be very useful sources of geek presents. Eva was keen to buy this jumper for her teacher but I suggested it might be a bit much in so many ways:

However, I can reveal that I bought a splendid red/green sequin tie for £3 from Flying Tiger which has been involved in both a carol service and a choir gig today. What an investment!

Hours of fun on the train home too, just switching it from red to green and back again:

Eva and I finished out list within 90 minutes and happened to spot the boys in the Lego store as we walked by. Apparently they’d finished their list too. So we all went for cookie dough, which was the price Eva had negotiated for her co-operation. We probably didn’t need one each though – a little cookie dough goes a long way and the kids didn’t manage half of theirs.

Still, a successful day out I think. Let’s leave it there before I have to recount the horror of getting to Hackney Downs and hearing the “signal failure” announcement. For more info about the Aquatic Centre and to book tickets, have a look here. Happy Christmas!

 

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A Day Off – 05/12/19

 

On Thursday, I took a day off. Unusual for me, I know, but it’s been a busy old month and sometimes you just need to channel Ferris Bueller and take some time to watch the world go by. So I dropped the kids off at school and instead of going to work I went to Covent Garden with not much of a plan than “do some Christmassy stuff” and meet Auntie Sabbage for lunch.

As plans go it’s not a bad one. I was too early for anything in Covent Garden to actually be open so I sat in Starbucks and had a toffee nut latte and a croissant. On the way in, I’d read an article in the Metro about festive drinks containing dangerous amounts of sugar and that really made me crave a Starbucks. I don’t think that was the intention of the article but it worked for me.

At 10, I set off for a wander around the market but still nothing was really open yet. So I went to Paperchase, which Eva had “fallen in yuv with” last year but, although the whole shop was fyuffy and sparkyee, there was nothing showstopping for Eva that wasn’t similar to the piles of fyuffy and sparkyee stuff she already has. Christmas shopping wasn’t going too well.

Still, Covent Garden is the most Christmassy place to spend a morning. Even if I wasn’t ticking anything off my to-do list, I was starting to get into the Christmas spirit. I mean, just look at the sheer number of Christmas trees:

And this one I think Eva would particularly yuv:

And there was a giant snowglobe, a mini ice rink and more Christmas trees:

The only thing that spoilt the look was this slightly gaudy pop-up that wasn’t really blending in with the ye olde Eliza Doolittle vibe of Covent Garden:

I’m sure the young folks love it. Eva probably would because it’s so shiny. Eva would also yuv this rabbit:

The stalls in the plaza still weren’t properly open so I wandered over to the Jubilee market where I scored some cheap woolly scarves for the kids in Gryffindor colours. First present in the bag!

I just kept heading south after that and stumbled upon a new shop called Neon Sheep, which was both cheap and sparkly. I picked up loads of stuff for Eva before remembering that it was Roo I really needed to buy for. A bottle of “Trump sucks” Kola Kubes and a desktop punch bag seemed to be the kind of thing that might amuse my boy. So it was lucky that Neon Sheep caters for the Trump-hating 10-year-old market. Plus the unicorn/glitter/fluffy stuff for Eva.

I’d managed to spend a lot in a short space of time so decided to go for a walk along the Strand, naturally humming “Let’s All Go Down the Strand” as I did so. Again, I had no real plan but popped into Somerset House to use the loos and isn’t it just another beautifully Christmassy place to hang out in?

It was at that point that I noticed a friend posting on Facebook about her stall at the Hatton Garden Christmas Market and I was only a mile or so away with time to kill before lunch. So I took a diversion down Fleet Street, past the Royal Courts of Justice and the very dramatic St Clement Danes’ Church:

There are so many nice and interesting buildings around there and it was just the kind of day to walk slowly and take it all in. The last time I’d been in Fleet Street was at the very end of the first day of our Monopoly weekend and trust me, it was not a day to linger that day.

So I got to Hatton Garden, hung out by the heaters and chatted to my friend for a while then back down Fetter Lane to meet Auntie Sabbage for lunch and a lovely cup of tea with a view at her office. And what a view:

And then it was time to go home and get the kids but let’s not dwell on that bit. Just know that I would highly recommend taking a day off if you can…there’s so much to see in London at this time of year and it’s so easy to miss. What would Ferris say?

 

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“The Pixie and the Pudding” at Little Angel Theatre – 30/11/19

Eva and I have enjoyed lots of shows at the Little Angel Theatre over the last few years but the last one we went to freaked her out a little bit. It was aimed at older children and my very sensitive girl didn’t quite cope. This show sounded a lot more on her level – it was aimed at 4-11-year-olds and the peril sounded very limited. You’ll be pleased to know that she came out saying it was “a very nice show” and denied that she was even a little bit upset in the middle when things weren’t going so well. I think that’s a pretty positive review.

So, what happened in the very nice show? It’s the tale of an old farmer who leaves a Christmas pudding out on his window sill every Christmas Eve for a pixie and the pixie returns the favour by blessing his farm with prosperity. Cows produce milk, roosters crow, chickens lay, vegetables grow. That was unintentionally poetic but I’ll pretend I did it on purpose. All is well until the farmer retires and new people take over – naive city folk – who dismiss the farmer’s note about the pixie and the pudding and then suffer a year of agricultural disaster. You can guess how it ends.

It may sound simplistic but it’s a charming little tale. There are songs to mark the passing of the seasons and they gradually become more melancholy as the new owners flail and falter. The two performers – Gilbert Taylor and Nix Wood – control the songs, work the puppets, play all the characters and sing the songs live as well, slipping into sweet harmony and occasionally a full-on dance routine. The puppets move with impressive nimbleness – at one point, the pixie is dancing inside a mixing bowl and leaping from table to floor with grace. The animal puppets were adorable and pretty much life-size. Eva was bought into the show as soon as Molly the Sheepdog appeared because Eva’s dog obsession shows no sign of abating. And Molly really did move like a real dog – so much so that I swear Eva let out a little sob when Molly was sent to sleep outside by the new owners. But as I said, she denies ever getting upset so who am I to doubt her?

There were a couple of emotional pinch points – Molly slinking off through the door with her tail dropping, the new owners facing up to the hopelessness of their situation – but it wasn’t ever overwhelmingly sad. There was a lightness of touch throughout and a lot of humour and liveliness, which stopped even the emotional ones among us getting too upset. The ending was joyous and full of hope so in every way, it was an uplifting Christmas show. Having said that, it wasn’t overly focused on Christmas so will still be enjoyable in the bleakness of January. In fact, I’d recommend it to take the edge off that ever-lasting month.

The take-home message was to have a little faith in the Christmas magic and to always treat your pixie well. Which is especially relevant if you end up taking a pixie home with you:

 

“The Pixie and the Pudding” runs from now until 2nd Feb 2020. For more details and tickets, click here. 

Disclaimer: I received free press tickets in exchange for a review but all opinions remain honest and my own. 

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Primrose Hill – 17/11/19

 

At bedtime last night, Eva asked if we could do “something exciting” after church today. To begin with, she was a bit vague about what that thing might be as she only knew it wouldn’t be chasing dinosaurs because they’re extinct. And while she toyed with the idea of riding a lion, it didn’t take her long to decide that it would be too much work to tame it. So, donkey riding it was. Or dog buying. I just let her go to bed and said we’d discuss it further in the morning.

We didn’t discuss it in the morning. She was still asleep when I left for church and it was much later on that I realised I had no plan to offer her, donkey-related or otherwise. So I had a quick look on the Time Out website before she came back from kids’ church and found the Primrose Hill Christmas Fair, which featured a dog show. We’ve been to a few dog shows this year as the kids are a bit obsessed with dogs but we only even seem to catch the tail end of them. And this was no exception. By the time we’d left church, caught a bus and a tube and walked over this bridge, they were about to start Best in Show

Still, the formalities of the dog show are really only formalities. The attraction for the kids is just lots and lots of dogs snuffling around and Eva notched up an impressive dog count of 182 by the end of the day. Only one could be the Best of the Best Boys though, and it was this boy, who matched his owner’s coat:

There were some great doggy antics to watch, even after the show had finished. One tiny pug slipped out of his collar and made a run for it and one dog tried to eat the basket of rosettes. The kids squealed with amusement at the adorable dogs inside the arena but it turns out there were adorable dogs all over the place. Hence Eva spotting so many. We kinda rushed through the fair to the food stalls because Nathan and I were both starving but as soon as we found them, we needed to change plan and find a toilet. We were right on the edge of Primrose Hill itself so we went into the park in search of the loos that Google Maps promised.

Guess what we found? More dogs! Oh yes. Including a pack of three Chows Chows all snuffling around each other. I wonder if they stick together like Bunchems if they get too close?

What we didn’t find were the toilets. They were under renovation and so we had to use a small block of portaloos that had little in the way of loo roll, soap and light. The cafe was also being renovated so we *still* hadn’t had lunch. But the kids had spotted the playground and so we delayed lunch once more while they had a climb:

If you’re wondering, the thing that looks like a giant climbing frame in the background is the bird enclosure at London Zoo. There was a sandpit and swings and Roo found some kind of metal hook thing that acted like a low-octane zipwire.

We eventually peeled the kids away and walked back around the zoo and into Camden, where Nathan and I finally scored some reduced-price sandwiches from the Co-op. It wasn’t quite the edgy street food I’d hoped for – more like bland Victoria Line food. But at least Eva had seen 182 dogs. And that is definitely “something exciting” isn’t it?

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Salzburg Without a Toddler Part 2 – 20/10/19

 

I realise that my last post about our Salzburg  trip launched straight into my epic Sound of Music fangirling without explaining quite how obsessive I am. Long-term readers will be familiar with my love of the Sound of Music but there are other reasons to visit Salzburg – the beautiful mountainous scenery, the architecture and, of course, all the Mozart sights. It’s just that, for me, the town is inextricably linked with SoM as are the surrounding mountains. So that might explain why we spent Sunday morning walking around in circles.

First off though, we had breakfast at our hotel. I’m normally a bit tight-fisted when it comes to hotel breakfasts but it’s much more affordable with two people than it is for four and when we woke up at 9, the idea of stumbling a few metres and having coffee on tap was very appealing. The pickled herrings and onions were less appealing – I like to sample the local cuisine but it was a bit early even for me to start on the pickles. Watched over by the portrait of a Salzburgian David Cameron doppelganger, we fuelled up on coffee and pastries and I outlined my plan for the morning – “just quickly before we go up in the cliff lift”.

Basically, I’d had a lot of confusion over bits of the Do Re Mi montage. I’d read something on Trip Advisor that made my brain think that the scene with the Fiaker (horse and cart) took place outside the Museum of Modern Art. When I realised that the museum was on top of the cliff, I spent a long time wondering how they’d got the horse up there. Late on Saturday night, it had become apparent that the bit outside the museum was the bit I’d thought took place on the bridge – the first time Maria teaches them the “when you know the notes to sing” part of the song. So the horse and cart must be somewhere around the Old Town. It would take us mere minutes to pin it down.

Or walk round and round every single street looking for a grey building that fitted this screenshot:

And experiencing a shedload of disappointment. But whenever God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window, right?

So we gave up. Went to the Billa supermarket to get a packed lunch and actually get on with the main plan of the day – to go up the MönchsbergAufzug and walk round the top of the Mönchsberg to Nonnberg Abbey. We weren’t exactly climbing a mountain but it felt a bit like we were. The lift was a few Euros each and we chose the “there and back again” option even though that would involve walking all the way to Nonnberg and back.

It was slightly disconcerting to get into the lift and hear “Space Oddity” playing – were we about to visit der Mond rather than der Mönchsberg? It turned out to be gaslighting us because for all the lift noises and Bowie countdown we actually didn’t move at all. The doors opened and we were still at ground level. Apparently we had to press a button once we were in the lift, something I’m not used to because the work lifts don’t have those kind of buttons. The second attempt was far more successful and we emerged to the kind of glorious Salzburg-view that you would normally find with curly golden writing over it:

And yes, it was the setting for that Do Re Mi segment and no, not the bit with the horses:

(Number 28 on the map if you’re still following these)

There was an exhibition on the moon landings at the museum, which explained the Bowie in the lifts. There were also a couple of modern art pieces outside, including Sky Space – an installation by artist James Turrell, which consisted of a hole in a roof over a tower. I don’t really get modern art…I think I’ve made that clear already.

I also don’t normally get the appeal of walking around in the countryside but it was a beautiful day and there were gorgeous views along the way. Everywhere you looked, there were mountains and castles and sunshine. Glorious:

After a bit of a steep climb, we stopped at the Bürgerwehr viewing point to have a breather and take in yet more cinematic views:

This mountain climbing thing wasn’t as hard as I’d thought…the lift definitely helped. And also it wasn’t a mountain. But still, we could definitely see some mountains from here.

Worryingly, the path started to dip down while we still a long way from Nonnberg. We could see it on the horizon so knew we would have to climb back up. Before we did that though, we had a chance to get a picture of us together thanks to a nice Syrian:

At this point, we could have visited the fortress, which would have involved a realllly steep climb but we had SoM sights to find and couldn’t afford to be distracted. So we pressed on to Nonnberg and it was totally worth it:

There’s the gate that Sister Berthe very slowly unlocks for the Nazis before sabotaging their cars and the same gate is used by the Von Trapp children when they come to look for Maria. There’s the church interior seen right at the start of the film and the garden that Maria walks through at the start of “I Have Confidence”. It’s been pointed out elsewhere that this shot does not reflect the view from Nonnberg:

I totally agree – Nonnberg isn’t in front of the Dom. But the same post suggested it was in the same location as the Do Re Mi bit outside the museum, which I disagree with. This shot seems roof level and the cliff lift goes way higher than that. I am kicking myself for not getting the exact location but I happened to take this shot of Nathan later on in the day, which almost matches:

And I think that was around the top of the Clemens-Holzmeister-Stiege, which are around 800m from Nonnberg and am impressive distance to travel between the lines “My heart should be wildly rejoicing” and “Oh, what’s the matter with me?”. Still, it’s even more impressive when, thirty seconds later, she seemingly abseils down the cliff face between the words “Oh I” and “must stop these doubts” because she’s walking through the arches at Residenzplatz by that point. And she’s not even out of breath. What a lady!!

While we were at Nonnberg, I had a small inspiration about that whole horse and cart thing and checked the Trip Advisor thread again – the one that had confused me earlier. Turns out that further down the thread someone had given the exact address for that sequence – Nonntaler Hauptstrasse, numbers 12-20. It was only a few minutes away from where we were, so we scurried down these steps:

And behold! A greyish building that could just be *the one*:

It was! John L on Trip Advisor had been absolutely right and all the signs were there – the funny shaped arch, the formal steps and this grey building. We were so happy that we sat down to have a sandwich right there and then. Or at least Nathan did. I was still full from breakfast:

(It’s where I’ve marked the little musical notes on the map)

Our next target was the Rock Riding School, backdrop for the Salzburg Folk Festival scenes towards the end. They have guided tours every day at 2 so we had an hour to get back to the Altstadt and and buy our tickets. Google Maps said it was 18 minutes. How hard could this be?

Google Maps didn’t mention that it involved climbing back over the Mönchsberg so the answer was “pretty darn hard”. It was a long way up and the little steps cut into the slope didn’t do much to relieve the gradient. If we’d taken the less scenic route via the roads, we would have scooped an extra location as well – the market where Gretl drops a tomato. Bah and grumble. It also seemed that Google had no real plan for how to get us down again because a dotted line to our final destination siggested a Maria-style abseil into the riding school. We weren’t up for that, so backtracked and took the aforementioned Clemens-Holzmeister-Stiege, which Nathan thinks are like the Escher steps. Fortunately, they weren’t and we managed to get down.

Tickets for the tour are described somewhat vaguely on the website but essentially – go to Max-Reinhardt-Platz at 1:45 and there’s a large building that takes up most of one side of the square. Look for a pillar with a large mask-like sculpture on it and the gates next to it will open when it’s time for ticket sales to start. We got there a few minutes early so had to go and use the loos (luckily I had a 50 Cent piece from an earlier trip) and then wait for the exact time. This is where the ticket office is:

It’s a 50 minute tour in German and English and it takes in not just the Felsenreitschule (riding school) but also the Haus für Mozart and the largest venue – the Großes Festspielhaus. It was a really interesting tour and we got to see the backstage area for the Großes Festspielhaus, which was massive and impressive. The acoustics in the auditorium are said to be amazing so the guide asked if anyone would step forward and sing in order to demonstrate. You don’t need to know what happened next, dear reader.

The Felsenreitschule doesn’t have such good acoustics because it’s carved out of the cliff face but it is an incredible space and obviously the most significant to us because we were racking up those SoM points (number 24 on the map)

But definitely worth paying attention on the rest of the tour as there are some great frescoes to look at and lots of good facts about the building. We even felt like we’d finally paid poor Wolfgang a bit of attention.

Afterwards, we sat down for a snack by these giant gherkins. We didn’t snack on the gherkins – I had a sandwich and Nathan had some milka biscuits  – so it really felt like I was consciously rejecting pickles all day. Most un-Katelike.

However, the gherkins were made of metal (more modern art) and I think the moment in the Festival Hall had been as much Kate as Salzburg could possibly handle anyway.

Suitably revitalised, we decided to make one more sightseeing push. So far, we hadn’t scored any aspect of the Von Trapp house – I knew that the patio belonged to Schloss Leopoldskron and was out of bounds to the general public. I didn’t feel much like getting the bus all the way out there just to squint at it across a lake. But Schloss Frohnburg seemed much more promising – it was the front of the house and only ten minutes away on the bus. We had  to get 24 hour tickets to get us back to the airport on Monday morning, so it made perfect sense to start them on Sunday afternoon and go and see if we could score one more sight.

And we did. The O-8 took us as far as the main road (stop: Poliziedirektion) and then it was an easy walk down the helpfully-named Frohnburgweg. You come out at the back of the house, which looks almost right (yellow house, big gates) but not quite. It isn’t until you go round past the goats that you find the front gates and drive, plus the road that Maria skips down at the end of “I Have Confidence” (No really, she covers a heck of a lot of ground in that song):

It almost completed the set of locations for that song, except I never bothered to find out where the shot of her crossing the square to get to the bus took place. Darny darn darn. Anyone know?

It’s fair to say that we were both a bit tired by this point. We went back to the hotel and although I attempted to go to church twice that evening, neither was successful and all we actually did was go for a pizza at O Poppo, which was very nice and not too pricey.

There were loads of interesting things we found around the city that I’ve kind of skimmed over in my rush to tell you about obscure SoM locations. So let’s whizz through them now:

Eva’s ideal dress – half sequins, half candy canes:

Signs that looked like pictures of Nathan and Eva walking together (man in hat, girl arsing about):

The world’s poshest McDonalds (move over Winchester):

Horse motifs everywhere and the occasional unicorn goat:

The very glittersome “Christmas in Salzburg” shop:

A padlock bridge:

Loads of Austrian traditional dress that I reckon Nathan would look pretty cool in (this is the women’s jacket but you get the idea):

Heart-shaped bushes:

And a strong push to differentiate Austria from similar-sounding countries:

As we sat at the O-10 bus stop this morning waiting to go back to the airport, Salzburg gave us one last parting gift – a beautiful sunrise by the Horse Pond. I really did hate to go and leave this pretty sight:

Auf Wiedersehen Salzburg!

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Salzburg Without a Toddler Part 1 – 19/10/19

Let’s start at the very beginning..

Although it may not be a very good place to start if the beginning is 5am in rural Essex. We were already behind schedule thanks to a diversion to Chingford’s only 24 hour petrol station and as I was sitting in the forecourt, loading the destination into Google Maps,  I had a bit of a shock. 48 minutes to Stansted? I may have boasted previously of our 28 minute drive to the airport…even on this blog… but this was the first time I’d relied on it because it had allowed us to set a 4am alarm rather than an unthinkably early 3-something alarm.

I looked in a bit more detail. The M11 was closed for emergency roadworks. Yup, that would do the trick. The M11 is somewhat central to the whole half-hour drive thing. I hadn’t budgeted time for petrol and now this? It was gonna bit a touch tight. The only thing I wanted to be a touch tight were my jeans because I had gorged on so much strudel. But this was how it was gonna be. And it could be worse – the roads were quiet, we had Longpigs and Madness on the stereo and the back seat was entirely free of younglings. Although it was early, I was more or less cognitive to remember that I’d dropped them off in Winchester some 11 hours previously and we weren’t just sneaking out while they slept. It felt a bit like that tho.

We made it to the roundabout outside Stansted around the time we were meant to be at the check in desk. A tad late but well redeemable. Just no room for errr….errr, did we just take the wrong exit and go into the “paid for” drop off section? Oh marzipan. We tried asking some blokes in high vis how to get through to the car park and they said to just keep driving straight through. No mention of the barriers that would charge us £4 for doing that. Given that we were late, trapped and with people on our tail, we just paid. Most expensive 100m of our lives.

But you’ll be pleased to know that everything went remarkably smoothly after that. A bit of a queue for check in and security, obviously, but very little hanging around once we were on the other side. Just time to grab a soy latte and a sausage sandwich from Starbucks before boarding the plane to read a book that slagged off people who grabbed soy lattes from Starbucks. I think I was OK with the sausage sandwich though because it wasn’t like it was vegan sausage on gluten free bread. Like the drive up, I too was redeemable.


In just 1 hour 30, we were coming in to land over the mountains of Salzburg. I don’t mind admitting that I had a weeny tear in my eye as I hummed a little song to myself about going to the hills when my heart was lonely. I had another weeny tear in my eye as we stood under the “EU Citizens” sign at arrivals for possibly the last time. But, as Nathan pointed out, we’d already had two farewell trips to the EU – to France and Portugal– and he was looking forward to seeing where we’d go in January.

Somehow we were the very last to get through passport control and by the time we got to baggage reclaim the belt had stopped and our suitcase was nowhere to be seen.  Time to deploy my first proper interaction auf Deutsch and in what I hoped were not-too-panicked tones. The attendant told us to look in between the two reclaim belts, which was fruitless (fruchtenlos?) as there was nothing at all there. We really were starting to panic and she’d gone off to look for someone else’s luggage when we saw her  from a distance hauling our battered red suitcase out through the flaps. Never have I moved faster while also thinking and shouting rapidly in German. Happily, we got it back and walked out through the terminal to catch the trolleybus 0-10 into town.

Getting public transport in a foreign country is always slightly tricky but we figured it out. There was a ticket machine at the bus stop, which was right across the car park from the terminal. You could pay by card and, as long as you’re not a student or a senior citizen, there is only one viable option – the 24-hr vollpreis. You can use this for any 24 hour period starting when you validate it on one of the ticket punching machines on the bus itself. We were there for 48 hours so 2 lots of tickets suited us nicely, including the trip back to the airport at the end.

The O-10 runs every ten minutes or so and it’s only 15 minutes into the Altstadt (Old Town) from the airport. As we drove through the city, it looked very modern and not quite the Salzburg I knew so well from the Sound of Music. Then we went through a rocky tunnel and emerged into the Altstadt, just as I thought it would be.  The very first thing we saw was the Pferdeschwemmen – the Horse Pond – which is a distinctive Salzburg feature (no 25 on the map) and one I thought I recognised from the film but couldn’t exactly place where. A lot of googling later revealed that it was a snippet of the “My Favourite Things” instrumental montage (see top photo below) but also that there was a deleted scene featuring Liesl and Rolf that was shot there. At the time I didn’t want to have my head stuck in my phone to research – we’d only been in Salzburg for 30 seconds – so we just took some photos and walked on to see what else there was to see.

Round the next corner was the entrance to the Museum of Modern Art, with the Monschberg lift, which seemed to me to be an easy shortcut for climbing at least one mountain. I really wanted to go in but we had all our luggage with us and check in at the Hotel Elefant was four hours away. So we kept walking.

Although it turned out that walking with a large suitcase on narrow cobbled pavements wasn’t the easiest thing. After a few more minutes, we decided to go and throw ourselves at the mercy of the hotel and see if they could take it off our hands.

And they could! My awkward German was obviously compelling enough for them to take pity on us. So now that we were unburdened, we could wander free around the Altstadt and it was not long after that that we found our first confirmed SoM sight – Residenzplatz. It was where Maria has her revelation that she does, in fact, have confidence in herself after leaving the abbey. She walks through the archways still full of doubt but by the time she’s at the fountain made of what seems like merhorses, she’s perked up a bit. It’s a must see and we went back there several times, just to soak up the atmosphere. It’s also where they filmed the Anschluss scene, but that wasn’t the kind of atmosphere we were soaking up…more the confident epiphany vibes. It’s number 10 on the map:

You may have picked up already that there’s a running horse-theme to Salzburg. Not a theme of running horses but a running theme that is equestrian in nature. We’d already posed by two horse fountains. Would there be more? Spoiler – yes.

Next to Residenzplatz is the Dom – the Cathedral – which was chiming as we walked past it and I felt the urge to run through the square, splashing water on my face. I didn’t but I should have done – it was remarkably hot and sunny for an October afternoon. Especially after weeks or constant rain in London. The Dom was another location that features only briefly in the “My Favourite Things” instrumental montage  but by the time we’d figured that out it was the following night. Hence the picture below (top one is from the film, bottom one is me watching the film on my phone to work out where I should be standing. Number 8 on the map, partly obscured by the musical notes I’ve added on….)

Oh, and there’s also some modern art near the Dom. A giant Goldene Kugel. There was lots of modern art around the town but I’ll admit, I wasn’t as interested in it as I was in the SoM sites. Call me uncultured if you will:

Our next uncultured steps took us across the Mozartsteg, a bridge across the river, which also featured in that same “My Favourite Things” instrumental montage. I was a little confused at the time as I thought it was where they first put words to “Do Re Mi” but, contrary to what I’d always thought, that wasn’t on a bridge at all. Don’t worry readers, we found it later. Were you worried?

It was still gloriously sunny at this point, so we decided to flop down on the river bank, eat a large bag of crisps and read for a while. And yes, that same river bank did feature just after the bridge shot but again, I didn’t realise it at the time. I just wanted a sit down in the sun with a view:

Nathan was way happier than he looks in this photo, honestly:

Why wouldn’t he be happy? It’s not like I tricked him into spending his 40th birthday treat doing stuff that I was obsessed about. Noooo….

As soon as Nathan had smug-posted on fbook about how sunny it was, it clouded over. So we got up and decided to walk to Mirabelle Palace, home of the last bit of the Do Re Mi montage. Did we find all the relevant shots? You betcha:

The gates with the outstretched arms are the ones closest to the street, just by the marionette theatre. The fountain that the children walk on the edge of is yet another horse fountain, the hedge tunnel is pretty easy to find and the steps at the end are the ones with all the tourists jumping up and down them. The statue is off to the side – you cross over a little bridge by a playground (ah, shame we didn’t have the children) and there’s a sculpture park with the specific fellow sitting on his own by the trees – not in the main circle. Just in case he was feeling lonely, we gave him a Von Trapp-style pat on the head and a cuddle:

The weather was feeling not chilly but autumnal by now and we were flagging. We hadn’t had lunch, so we went back to Getriedegasse and bought some warmed-up bagels from the Spar, which we ate by the river under the watchful and hungry eye of a local doggie. He remained hungry, poor boy. Then it was 3PM and time to check into our hotel. Good intentions about going up in the cliff list melted away as the 4am start caught up with us and the lure of a nap proved overpowering. Our hotel room was like a cocoon – not much natural daylight and very warm – so we stopped for just a moment and woke up again at 6pm. I think we needed it.

For dinner, I really wanted some traditional Austrian fare so we went to a restaurant by the name of the Goldene Kugel – much like the sculpture outside the Dom – and ordered schnitzel, bier and strudel, which ticked all the boxes of being hearty, filling and very Austrian. It didn’t hurt that two of those things were among Maria’s favourites as well. We were going to struggle to get any wild geese or indeed snowflakes, but deep fried meat in breadcrumbs and pastry we could do. Nathan had the Apfelstrudel and I had a cheesecake version and I have to say that his was tastier. Which of course didn’t stop me from finishing mine as well as having some of his:

After dinner, we went for another walk round the Altstadt to work off some of the stodginess. Residenzplatz was deserted so I could skip about and sing “I Have Confidence” to my heart’s content. We hadn’t achieved everything we’d set out to do on Day 1, thanks to the massive nap, but we’d had a good try. And tomorrow is another day….whoops, wrong film….

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“The Dong With a Luminous Nose” at Little Angel Theatre – 22/09/19

We’ve been to the Little Angel Theatre quite a few times now – more than I can count anyway. It always feels like a bit of a hidden gem, down the leafy passageway from Cross Street, and it’s an intimate performing space which means that the audience can feel very close to the action. Most of the shows we’ve seen there have been aimed at the 3-7 market and have been charming but fairly straightforward stories. This was our first foray into Little Angel’s more grown up productions (aged 7-adult) and it was an abstract, wordless piece based loosely on an Edward Lear poem.

It certainly was darker than the shows for younger kids – quite literally at times, as the whole stage was plunged into total darkness near the beginning and then a single light shone out, marking the first appearance of the eponymous Dong. The themes of the show were fairly dark as well though – abandonment, loss, loneliness – and it was a bit much for my very sensitive girl, who said she felt sad as soon as Edward’s parents sailed away, leaving him alone on a chair overlooking the sea. She perked up a bit at the first mention of “The Jumblies” because she’d read a poem about them at school but Edward’s sadness never completely left him and I think Eva was having a bit of an empathy overflow with him.

Which is a shame because there’s much to enjoy about the show – the way that the score and the movement of the puppets blended together perfectly and the way that the abstract shapes looked almost human-like in their movement but still fantastical. The much younger child behind us seemed to be taking all the bright colours and shapes at face value and so was filled with nothing but happiness whereas I think Eva was still wondering when Edward’s parents were going to come back. She is 7, so just on the cusp of the recommended age, but it’s probably worth noting that a super-sensitive seven year old might not cope that way with the strength of emotion in the piece.

The fantasy sequences are interwoven with the more real setting of Chankly Bore where a phone rings but no-one answers and the people are featureless, murmuring shadows with the exception of Edward. It’s telling that he is set apart from the rest of them by the depth of detail on his puppet and the expressions that he’s capable of compared with the townsfolk. They carry out their lives around him – shopping for bread and throwing birthday parties – but he sits alone, his parents’ house growing derelict behind him until he finds some purpose in the shape of the Jumbly Girl. Then he is transformed from the dull palette of his usual clothes to bright colours, a clown face and even a mermaid-like tail at one point. By the end, he has adorned himself with the homemade luminous nose and although he is still imbued with sadness, he is completely different from the Edward of the start.

The show is slickly staged, with puppeteers moving as one to propel Edward across the stage and singing in complex harmonies as they do so. It is sombre and with only a few points of comic relief but it is moving, thought-provoking and innovative – certainly not your average puppet show! It’s running till 10th Nov and is a good show for children who are mature enough to deal with the big issues it raises, especially the idea of growing up and changing. For tickets and more information, take a look here.

Disclaimer: I received free press tickets in exchange for a review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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Christmas in September – 14/09/19

For the past few autumns, I’ve been at odds with the rest of my family about when the appropriate time to start singing Christmas songs is. Nathan traditionally had a 1st Dec embargo in place but that’s gone out of the window with the advent (pun intended) of my choir. We now start Christmas gigging at the end of November so that means starting rehearsal in September or, this year, in October. Working back from that logically means that I tend to spend August choosing and arranging the new Christmas songs. Which, according to my family, is TOO EARLY. This year though, the kids are doing a proper Christmas-themed show in Perform as opposed to an arbitrary Perform show with a song about snow tacked on the end. So they too are busy singing Christmas songs, even before I am. All of which means it’s definitely not too early to start batting that particular C-word about.

Sony Movies think so too, which is why they’ve launched their Christmas movie channel already – a full-day schedule of festive treats on Freeview 50, Sky 319, Virgin 424 and Freesat 303. And to celebrate, they teamed up with innovative Chin Chin Ice Cream to give away 100 Christmas Turkey Dinner Sundaes. Eva and I were in town today to teach English, so we jumped on the 38 afterwards to check it out for ourselves. Well, first we had lunch at My Favourite Cafe in Essex Road and then we jumped on a remarkably slow, hot and overcrowded 38 that terminated at Holborn instead of Piccadilly Circus and then had to walk. We earned that ice cream.

I had warned Eva that it might be slightly unusual ice cream but wasn’t sure myself just unusual it would be. The answer was…really quite. It was meant to be a turkey dinner in one bowl and certainly had that meaty-gravy taste alongside the caramel of the ice cream. I couldn’t help feel that it would be really nice ice cream without that meatiness and as it was, it was more interesting than delicious. Eva certainly wasn’t sure:

She eventually dug some of the cranberries out from the bottom, carefully wiped the ice cream off and then spun a fantasy tale about a giant cranberry that looked like a turkey. I finished her ice cream but more because I dislike wasting food than because I was finding it a super enjoyable experience. It wasn’t nasty, it was just…odd. The people at the next table described it as “remarkable” but I’m not sure whether they meant that in a positive or a negative way. Remarkable is a safe word for it. What it definitely was was Christmassy. I mean, you could taste all the elements of the turkey dinner in there and it did feel festive. But also odd.

On the way back across Soho Square, we spotted something which made Eva remarkably happy. She told me the other day that there were two famous nurses in the Crimean War and where did we end up today but in front of Mary Seacole’s house? It made a nice ending to a surreal Soho trip:

If this review has convinvced you to try the Turkey Dinner Sundae then hurry – they’re only available till Tuesday. But I’d probably recommend just sticking to the Christmas movies…

More information on Chin Chin here

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