Saturday, 30 November 2013

Commuting Gems...The Garden Bridge

A few weeks ago I was reading Time Out magazine on the tube ride home when I was inspired by the latest campaign to have the support of the fabulous Joanna Lumley, The Garden Bridge project.

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The Garden Bridge is set to be London's first green pedestrian walkway stretching across the Thames between Southbank and Covent Garden on the north side of the river. The project has been commissioned by TfL (Transport for London) as part of their vision to create a pedestrian river crossing - the aim is to complete this rural corridor by 2017.

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Thomas Heatherwick is the creative genius behind this verdant proposal. He's the one who designed that spectacular 204 petal Olympic Cauldron for London 2012 and has also designed a new-style 'London bus' some of which hit the streets earlier the same year. He envisages a peaceful and rejuvenating precinct for the nation's capital, one which reflects the beauty of each of the seasons and creates opportunities for commuters to linger and take a breath in the hustle and bustle of their day. 

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Can you imagine what an amazing legacy that would be? I feel quite inspired by such commitment to quality of life and the philosophy of green living.

There's currently a public consultation about the Garden Bridge project which can be found here. So if you feel inspired and have something you'd like to say about it, you have until the 20th December (2013) to register your views.

There's also a rumour that the bridge would feature a Christmas tree during the festive season.

I'm in...where do I sign?

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Composers, Canalboats And Christmas Cheer...

What with lots of changes, challenges and general excitement over the last few months I've been a little lax in my pottering about London (note I do not include my recent tourist-ing with Lil Chicky in this - that was by no stretch 'pottering') and today it was a combination of music and markets that had my full attention. Having been in Chicago for work this week (and slept the morning away yesterday 'in recovery'), today saw me up, about and out the door for a little culture and some festive cheer. 

First stop (well after the tube ride and the large soy cappuccino purchase at Caffe Nero) was Kings Place for Bach Unwrapped, a one hour concert featuring the work of JS Bach, his protege JG Goldberg, and his son, CPE Bach. For those of you in the know about these things, today's Trio Sonatas programme consisted of:

Trio in G for flute and violin
Trio in C for two violins (collaboration with Goldberg)
Trio in D Minor for two violins (collaboration with his son)
Trio Sonata from Musical Offering

(For those of you who know nothing about these things, the violin, cello and harpsichord were joined by another violin for the second and third pieces and a flute for the first and the fourth.)

Apparently the last piece, Musical Offering was borne of the composer's meeting with Frederick The Great in 1747 - the King challenged Bach to improvise over a theme he had written and while Bach rose to the immediate challenge, on returning home he composed Musical Offering and despatched it to King Frederick. The programme note claimed that Musical Offering has been dazzling musicians with its brilliance ever since.

While I don't know very much about classical music, I find it incredibly moving and very easy to lose myself in the ebb and flow of the music so after an enjoyable hour, I wandered out and headed back to Kings Cross Station in a leisurely snap-happy stroll. 

Despite my having been there several times, I had never actually walked out the back of Kings Place before today - lo and behold there's a rather lovely deck which overlooks Regent's Canal...

...and the stroll back to the station along the canal was quite pretty too.

The area around Kings Cross and St Pancras Stations has been undergoing a major redevelopment since 2008 and in the midst of the construction site, there's quite a pleasant walkway - dotted with titbits about the area's history - which connects the stations to Regent's Canal. This is the view coming back from the canal, the spire of the Grade I listed St Pancras International station building standing tall above the 'debris'.

The forecourt between Kings Cross and St Pancras stations.
The second half of my Sunday foray was spent wandering along the Southbank Christmas Market. There is something deliciously festive about this market. The decorated stalls stretched along the riverside path from The London Eye to the National Theatre with stallholders plugging their wares (hand made gifts and eclectic arts and crafts feature heavily), tempting passersby with a fresh waffle, a little glühwein or perhaps some kind of German sausage concoction.

Nearly there - this glimpse of Big Ben framed by the railway bridge caught my eye from Concert Hall Walk on the way to Southbank.
This 'urban' paint job decorated the entrance at the back of Royal Festival Hall. 
Traditional festive cheer above one stall...
...faced off against Scrooge on another.
German sausage concoction? Enough said...
The twinkling lights, the smell of roasted chestnuts...I just love it. Even the nip in the air as I snuggled deeper into my coat, hat and scarf was a reminder of the merriment to just 31 sleeps.

Needless to say I've started my Christmas shopping...

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Turning Japanese...

As things settle back into a normal rhythm here at Gidday HQ, I'm finding some head space to register the curiosities that I come across in my going about in the world each day. This week has seen me ooh-ing at 3D printed food and aah-ing at spray on clothes but the one that really got me going was an injection of fun in the place where I least expected it.

With the amount of travelling I do, one of the biggest bugbears is the wait for luggage (alongside the wait in the immigration queue). Luckily I can get away with carry-on for most trips but when I think of the number of times I have strained to see - amid the proliferation of black - my trusty grey and green suitcase emerge onto the carousel, my delight upon spotting it trundling towards me is often too long coming.

It would seem that the Japanese have understood such a plight and have decided to make the wait more enjoyable by introducing some local character to the baggage hall - literally. 

In Tottori Airport, Medama no Ovaji - the 'eyeball' father from famous manga series Kitaro (of the) Graveyard - rides around and around the carousel, welcoming waiting travellers with open arms. 

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Now this would really jerk me out of my post-travel stupor. And after wondering whether jetlag had finally done a huge number on me, I imagine I would rub my eyes, search frantically for my phone and upload a quick disbelieving pic to my Facebook circle.

But what's really great about this scheme is that each airport gets to choose its own theme and so is able to promote its own particular city or region.

Toyama's Kitokito Airport promotes the area's fresh seafood...

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Okayama takes its inspiration from the local tale of Momotaro who's said to be born from a peach...

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And the loquats (or mikan oranges) at Nagasaki airport stand testament to the region's proud claim as Japan's #1 producer.

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And it's not just at the airport where the Japanese apply their quirky brand of fun. 

In an effort to inspire children's interest in the big wide world out there, you can buy a tour through Unagi Travel for your child's toy(s). Said teddies are sent off for 2-3 weeks to tour a region of Japan, keeping those 'at home' updated with Facebook posts, photos and even a postcard before returning home with a bunch of photos on CD and even a video of their grand tour. 

What a great idea. I wonder whether Alfie Bear would be up for a tour? 

Huh? What do you mean it's only for children...

ps...and in being reminded of Alfie Bear's first festive foray, I was then reminded to let you know that yes peeps, I counted today and there are 38 sleeps to go until Christmas (37 if you are about to wake up Down Under). Gulp...

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Prodigal Daughters...

One of the most wonderful aspects of our recent trip to Amsterdam was the sense of pilgrimage brought on by being there together. As kids we were at our Oma and Opa's at least once a week so our sense of 'Dutch-ness' has been very strong all of our lives and the sense of shared heritage during our visit - particularly as it was Lil Chicky's first foray across The Channel - was quite poignant.

The icons of Amsterdam and The Netherlands, though I'd seen and photographed them many times before, seemed to shape our pilgrimage and just like the tale of the brave Dutch boy who held back the swirling waters by putting his finger in a hole in the dike, we remained resolute walking, eating and snapping our way through four fabulous days.

And speaking of walking, what better place to start than the klompenmakerij, or the wooden shoe factory.

L to R: wooden shoe tree outside the factory in Marken
carved shoes hung up to dry; souvenirs galore.

Lil Chicky even tried a pair on...

...but decided to buy the pair that she could actually fit into her suitcase.

Still speaking of walking, If you're walking anywhere in Amsterdam, it pays to pay attention. Cyclists rule the roads and there was a point where we found ourselves caught mid-street with a tram on one side and a cyclist on the other. The tram driver stopped.

Clockwise L to R: Bikes parked in Dam Square; 
view from the canal; 
the 'bike park' (how on earth do you find your ride again?)

Travelling further afield we saw our first windmills, standing tall over the flat watery plains, and paid homage to sails of a typically Dutch kind.

Scenes from Zaanse Schans

The Netherlands produces three billion tulip bulbs every year. We found a few down at the flower market on The Singel in Amsterdam...and a few more of 'nature's gifts' on our travels.

Clockwise L to R: Tulips at the bloemenmarkt on The Singel; a very literal hash tag;
wheels of gouda cheese everywhere from Amsterdam to Volendam.

Speaking of nature's gifts, two particular girls would never have graced the world with their special brand of Aussie Dutch-ness without at least a little contribution from the bloke who lived for a while at 159 Amstelkade. So we caught the number 24 tram on Thursday night, walked about 15mins and found ourselves here...

Prodigal daughters - finding Dad's childhood home. 
Pictures were duly despatched to said sire.

With all of this pilgrim-ing, we needed to keep up our strength and every day was punctuated with cries of remembered vittels from our childhhood.

Clockwise L to R: Enjoying hot chips and proper creamy mayonnaise; 
waffles for every palate (including Lil Chicky's); 
Dutch apple pie - chock full of layers of thinly sliced apple - evoked a real 'Oma' moment for us; 
yours truly enjoying a well-earned oliebollen; 
two excited faces waiting for our inaugural Amsterdam poffertjes; in the making.

And when all was said and done, and all of those memories were tucked away into the chinks of my mind and heart, I wanted to bring a little piece of it home with me...

My hand made Delft vase, a wonderful reminder of our trip.

...and while tulips will no doubt look amazing once they are in season, my irises look gorgeous at Gidday HQ.

So that's Amsterdam - and a day trip or two - done. 

Until the next time I need a nostalgia fix!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Postcard from Amsterdam...

With Lil Chicky back home now and me trying valiantly to get back into life's rhythmic swing, I've been working through the few hundred photos I took during our adventures together. And as I have been sorting, one question has kept going around and around in my head. What do I share with you first?

It had to be our trip to Amsterdam - and it warrants a couple of posts. Firstly because it's such a wonderfully photogenic city and secondly because it was something of a pilgrimage for the two of us - but more about that in my next post.

This was my fourth visit to Amsterdam. There is something rather special about cities built in commune with their watery roots and I cannot count the number of times we turned a corner and wielded our respective 'piccy kits' (mine a point-and-shoot Nikon, hers a 'fully-optioned', rather hefty Canon SLR) in an attempt to capture 'a moment'. 

With the exception of the 15 minute downpour walking from the Central Station to our hotel, we were blessed with four days of gorgeous weather. Crisp blue skies meant that a shared cone of chips generously dolloped with lush, luscious mayonnaise and a plate of bitteballen were best tackled outside, the latter with a local beer in hand.

It also meant A LOT of photos. Here are just a few of my absolute favourites.

We stayed at the Hampshire Eden just near Rembrandtplein - while the square itself was literally at our back door, this was the view from the front of the hotel.

I love that this photo looks like a painting - the curve of the canal, the buildings, bikes and boats lining the banks and a spire to aspire to in the distance.

There was something rather innocent about the dappled shade on the canal wall and the friends enjoying their moment in the sun, legs dangling childishly over the edge.

Begijnhof is a beautiful oasis tucked away in the heart of Amsterdam. Blink and you'd miss not just this entrance leading off Spui (we did) but also Amsterdam's oldest house (no 34), the 15th century Engelse Kerk (English Church - above) and the Begijnhof Chapel, a clandestine church where the Begijntjes worshipped in secret until 1795.

No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a wander through its infamous Red Light district. The scarlet-draped windows line the streets and canals around the Oude Kerk (Old Church) yet as night falls and the lights reflect off the water, it easy to forget the deals 'being done' and get caught up in how pretty it all looks.

Oude Kerk itself is rather lovely in a stark kind of way. Not for it the intimate spaces or crowded decoration of many of Europe's other places of worship. There's a feeling of spacious calm beneath the gothic arches and when you've had enough, an unassuming door off the nave leads to a cosy tea room and outdoor courtyard for some quiet enjoyment and a reflective cuppa. 

If you are visiting Amsterdam, whether coming directly by train or by plane via Schipol Airport, you are likely to come through its Central Station. Intent on your destination, it's easy to miss the opportunity to turn around and admire the magnificent entrance to this fabulous city. True to form, we were dashing away from the station on our arrival but had the opportunity to appreciate it from our canal cruise the following day.

As our canal boat rounded a corner, the colour and light in this scene was breath-taking. I love how all the elements - the bridge, the boat, the terraced buildings and the leafy boughs of the tree - come together to create what for me is inherently Amsterdam.

Our canal cruise took us past the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) which was constructed in 1670 and is probably the most famous in Amsterdam. I didn't get a great photo of that bridge but as we drifted past it and turned right, this boat-load of 'locals' caught my eye and while not the Magere Brug, the typically Dutch bridge in the background gave me another moment in the sun to capture.

And last but not least, our photographic journey returns us to the 'back yard' of our stay, Rembrandtplein. It's a vibrant square lined with cafes, bars and restaurants and pays homage to Rembrandt van Rijn himself and his most famous painting, The Nightwatch. (Like I did last trip, you can see the real thing in the Rijksmuseum. It's enormous!)

So here endeth the armchair tour and I hope you've enjoyed it even half as much as I've enjoyed revisiting our trip in the writing of this post. S
tay tuned for more next time, an alternative look at our sibling sojourn as a pilgrimage of 'all things Dutch'.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Skip In My Step...

So the great Chicky Adventure is done and my sibling partner in crime has arrived back on the other side of the world (and is working through her jet lag by all accounts). 

It was such an amazing two weeks - firstly for the unadulterated 'just us' time, secondly for the opportunity for me to introduce her to this amazing city I call home, and thirdly for our shared pilgrimage to Amsterdam, Dad's childhood home, and the delicacies we enjoyed in memory of our Oma and Opa.

I've been meaning to pick up the blogging 'pencil' again over the last few days but I have felt so full of everything we did that I haven't known where to start. The anticipation of Lil Chicky's first trip here. The pride in the sharing of my new hometown and experiencing its fabulous-ness through her 'new' eyes. The privilege of helping her celebrate her 40th birthday. The sheer intensity of spending 2 weeks - 24/7 - together for the first time since...well forever. 

All underpinned by a lifetime of sisterly memories, the effortless and uncomplicated recall of funny stories, childhood scrapes and sibling rivalry, and squilions of photos... 

...including a few selfies.

DAY 2: Fab Finchley - looking for coffee in the pouring rain.

DAY 3: Can't go to London without visiting the Queen.

DAY 4: Hamers do 'the henge' (squeezed between visits to Salisbury and Bath). Technically not a selfie thanks to a kind Aussie chap on the tour, but close enough.

There's a small selfie gap here while we undertook birthday celebrations (part one - The Mousetrap and dinner in Covent Garden - and two - Pret-a-Portea at The Berkeley)...

DAY 5: Fashionista food at the Berkeley

...Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, Globe Theatre and a visit to Carnaby Street.

DAY 6: Yes, we bought these. Because we had to get out of the rain. And the Irregular Choice shop was just there. Really.

Then we went to Amsterdam...

DAY 9: Arriving at Amsterdam's Central Station about 2 minutes before torrential rain...

Waiting for our first poffertjes (teeny tiny pancakes served with butter and icing sugar and eaten with a toothpick) of the pigrimage trip in Dam Square.

(More on Amsterdam in a later post).

After 4 days, we returned to London, hired a car and drove first to Silverstone and then to Donington Circuits to tick a few things off Lil Chicky's motorsport bucket list. Looks like Day 13 was a lucky one...

The Winners' Podium at Silverstone - cheesy but had to be done.

We decided to take Day 14 easy with a visit to the Museum of London after the 'wild storm' had abated...and when Day 15 dawned bright and blue-skied (if a little chilly), there was just one thing left to do...

DAY 15: It endeth on The Eye - our last sibling selfie of the trip.

Full of our time together and tired from our two weeks of tourist-ing, we said our emotional good-byes at Heathrow last Tuesday. After I'd waved until she'd disappeared behind the security barrier, I made the long trip home to Gidday HQ. It's still my warm and cosy haven but a little quieter. And yellow banner of the Money Shop, which became our welcoming 'nearly home' beacon as we turned into my street each night, has now taken on a new and poignant significance. Another memory, meaningless to anyone else but enough to inspire a skip in my step... that only Lil Chicky will understand.