August Bank Holiday 2019 – West London

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We always like to do something a little special for the August Bank Holiday – and this year was no different as we’d planned a two-day break in London.

The weather forecast promised a scorcher (especially in the capital) where temperatures are predicted to hit the low-thirties! Apparently another temperature-record will be broken today according to the Tabloids! (Actually, it was – we learned later that it had hit 33.2°C in London!)

Bank Holiday Monday

We’re travelling light! Just two bags between us (and one of those is purely ‘tech’!), so it’ll be interesting to see how we get on… 😉

Being a Bank Holiday, we guessed that the train schedule would be somewhat messy. In fact, there had been announcements over the previous fortnight about NOT travelling AT ALL over the bank holiday! We knew Kettering station was affected, so we drove to Bedford and travelled to St Pancras from there. Arriving for the ticket queue at just after 10 (after a bit of a wrestle with the car-park ticket machine that required an ‘AS’ level to use!), where it seemed the rest of Northamptonshire was already there – and the station was heaving! 😮

10.13am: With our queuing for our tickets over, the journey was happily, a trouble-free experience to the capital. It was our first trip on the new franchise that is East Midland Railways and not much has changed, but what had, was good including totally free wi-fi throughout on a train that arrived out of nowhere (based on its arrival time). 😊

11.00am: We were soon joining a different hoard – on the Tube to our destination to Gloucester Road! And the tabloid promise was coming true – a scorcher was in the making for sure!

If it was warm above ground, imagine the joy of the Tube. Ahh, the Piccadilly Line – super-busy and every passenger (apart from the three Aussies next to me), getting more moist by the minute – there was more air coming out of the loudspeaker grille than the AC duct – what a way to travel on a Summer’s day!!! 😓😓

On our list today…

The Science Museum
The Design Museum

£90 per night including breakfast! (in Kensington!!) 😁

11.30am: But before the Museum visits, it made sense to dump our bags. We’re staying at the (very) modestly-priced IBIS Styles in Gloucester Road (more about that later), and after losing some weight we headed for the Museum region, a five-minute walk around the corner.

The Science Museum

11.45am: First stop was the Science Museum. We haven’t been here for a while, but we’d heard it had had a makeover courtesy of the National Lottery.

Wow! What a change! One of the first exhibits celebrated the age of steam…

‘Puffing Billy’ – the oldest locomotive in the world!
The Age of Steam

…followed by plenty of exhibits of cars through the ages…

A new take on ‘parallel parking’!

Next, examples of how machines were powered after the steam generation, including…

A Merlin engine from a Spitfire

There was also a big section on the future of transport – very thought provoking!

1.10pm: The highlight for us though was the GCHQ Exhibition on the lower-ground floor. There wasn’t that much to see, but what there was, was fascinating! It was a little like the exhibits at Bletchley Park, but in addition, it included more recent accounts of modern code-breaking.

No, not an Enigma Machine, but its successor, the Lorenzo Machine
All about early encryption methods – fascinating!

An excellent exhibition and worth seeing even if you HAVE been to Bletchley Park. All-in-all a fascinating visit with much more than we expected! Well worth a visit!

A Comprehensive GCHQ-related Shop

1.45pm: Next stop was a fifteen-minute bus-ride away (on the No. 23) to the Design Museum, next to one of the entrances to Holland Park. In all our travels in London, we’d never come across this Museum before – and amongst all the other buildings in Kensington High Street, it stood out a mile, architecturally speaking! The Museum is open daily 10 until 6 and open late on the first Friday of every month until 8pm.

The Design Museum – Stanley Kubrick Exhibition

2.15pm: Unfortunately, we’d narrowly missed an exhibition from our old employer ‘Mr Sainsbury’ (that had closed the day before) ‘From Corn-Flakes to Cola’ – or so we thought. It was still advertised… and still running! 😊

Located around the perimeter of the first floor was a wide range of label-designs, packaging ideas and typography from ‘back in the day’ (probably best NOT to be too specific) 😊 – but it certainly brought back memories!

For those of you who read my Blog and also have a connection with ‘good ol’ JS’, there’s some great memories to wallow in here! 😉

2.45pm: Back to the main event then – the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition. We had to pre-book, but on arrival, after a quick pit-stop, we got in about an hour before ‘our slot’. We knew we were in for a treat as the media hadn’t given it a five-star review and Steven Spielberg has sung its praises too!

The Exhibition commemorates Kubrick’s life, twenty years after his passing, and is as comprehensive as it comes. Luckily for the curators, Kubrick seemed to keep everything – and his notes captured the minutiae of his profession perfectly: from camera angles, casting and story-boarding, it was all here. In short, the Exhibition comprehensively tells the story of this icon of a film-maker, exploring his unique command of the creative design process of film-making, from storyteller to director to editor.

The entrance to the Exhibition

The Exhibition illustrated how Kubrick created genre-defining worlds for his films and relived iconic scenes and memorabilia from The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut, Barry Lyndon, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, 2001: A Space Odyssey and more. In all, there were over 700 rare objects, films, interviews, letters and photographs – fantastic!

This had been one of the most comprehensive Exhibitions we’ve ever seen. The level of detail that Kubrick had recorded in the process of his film-making was simply amazing! And it was so good that someone had had the foresight to pull it all together for this exhibition.

A car designed by Kubrick?

4.00pm: We were all cultured-out by now and having been ‘spoilt’ by the Museum’s air conditioning, we certainly felt the heat when we came out. It was now (at least) the promised 31 degrees. We made for the nearest bus-stop – fortunately just a short walk away – where we only waited around 10 minutes for the number 49, that took us pretty much straight to our hotel! After a quick perusal around the local Waitrose for our evening meal, we checked into Room 309.

5.30pm: We were glad to be out of the heat, but there’s a full-day ahead tomorrow!


On our list today…

The Natural History Museum
The V and A Museum
The Royal Albert Hall

The Victoria and Albert Museum

Inside the main entrance to the V & A

10.15am: After our quick breakfast at the Hotel, we walked our first stop of the day: The Victoria & Albert Museum. It was already 22 degrees outside, so it was good to enjoy the relative coolness inside!

Spread across five floors, there’s plenty to see here and the gift-shop is home to plenty of quality merchandise that punches well above its weight in terms of range.

Plenty to see on the 1st floor, modestly entitled ‘Britain’. it covered the years from 1500 through until 1900 and showed-off a wide range of home interiors, where there were even complete recreations of whole rooms! Lovely! ✔✔✔✔✔

11.15am: Lunchtime at the V and A, with a particularly enjoyable view – The John Madejski Gardens

…albeit with London prices! 😮

Welcome to London! Two soft drinks + two pieces of cake = £16.30! 😋

Our final stop was the area of the Cast Courts containing an amazing range of replica statues!

This had been an impressive Museum. It was quiet, mostly sprog-free and (given today’s heatwave) a comfortable temperature. Our next stop however, would turn out to be the complete opposite! 😮

The Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum

12.35pm: I can’t recall the last time I visited the Natural History Museum, but it seemed to have changed a lot (based on my memory!).

There is a lot to see here and for the reasons that follow, we didn’t really do it justice. First of all, it was packed! Second, it was very noisy, thirdly, there were gazillions of sprogs in attendance (the main source of the noise!) and it was much hotter than its neighbour. Why all these kids – it’s a boring Museum after all? Well, if anyone says that the craze for dinosaurs has died-down, it certainly wasn’t in evidence here. The enormous section of the Museum devoted just to Dinos was where most of the human-traffic was heading – and it was heaving!

But we had to see what all the fuss was about. 🙄

Impressive doesn’t begin to describe what was on show. Anything, and probably everything, you ever needed to know about dinosaurs was covered here. But, forget the facts, because most of the attention (and noise) was from around the life-size dinosaur exhibit that moved and roared! Literally scores of people all squeezing into the (smallish) space to grab a shot of this animatronic marvel – including me! 😉

Not a real dinosaur
A real dinosaur

The other major attraction here was ‘Museum of the Moon’ – and the area surrounding it was rammed with onlookers! 🤔 It featured an inflatable installation artwork by Luke Jerram – a spherical replica of the Moon, with a diameter of 7 metres. Several copies tour the world for temporary exhibitions, often accompanied by music. There are also copies in museums in Barcelona and Sydney. Ann liked it, but because I’d seen the word ‘interactive’ somewhere in the promotional material, as clever as it was, I was expecting it to ‘do’ more than just ‘hang there’ accompanied by ethereal music. Beautiful though!

‘Museum of the Moon’

1.30pm: Although there was still plenty to see here, it (‘it’ being the noise and the heat) was all a bit too much for these two old codgers (a sign of our age?), so we retreated back to the safety of the now familiar Waitrose, Gloucester Road (opposite our hotel) for the bits-and-bobs for our late lunch.


2.30pm: With Lunch sorted, there was just time for a short siesta before getting ready for tonight’s main event…

The Royal Albert Hall

6.20pm: Now refreshed, we took the short(ish) walk direct to the Royal Albert Hall. It only took us about 25 minutes from the Hotel.

No photos allowed!

7.00pm: The highlight was seeing our favourite Opera, Mozart’s The Magic Flute where tonight’s performance is part of the 2019 BBC Proms season (‘Prom No. 51’, if you’re counting!) The last time I was at the Royal Albert Hall was for a very different kind of the music: the culmination of Camel’s World Tour in 2018 back in September last year – and the last time we enjoyed the Magic Flute in London was almost six years ago in April 2013 at the Royal Opera House. We love this Opera!! 😁

Well, seating-wise, we couldn’t have got much higher, and to say our ‘backs were against the wall‘ for this performance was literal. Any higher, and we would have needed a parachute – and oxygen! Still, the seats were comfy, but we also felt the temperature rising with all the bodies from a (near) sell-out performance (I only saw four empty seats). Ann had thoughtfully packed a fan, whilst other less fortunate souls were frantically waving their Programmes to create a breeze! 😓😓😓😓😓

But what of the 155 minute Glyndebourne performance itself? In a word: ‘Superb’. Everyone (see the full cast below) was at the top of their game tonight, and even at the distance we were from the stage, combined with the RAH’s challenging acoustics, the sound travelled well – and sounded fantastic. More especially, Caroline Wettergreen who sang her heart out as ‘Queen of the Night’, judging by the enthusiastic applause completely wowed this audience.

Creatively, it was a visual treat. It’s probably the only time you’ll see rubber babies, LED-powered chefs’ hats and where a Bake-Off based backdrop completed the picture!

The Cast

David Portillo – Tamino
Sofia Fomina – Pamina
Björn Bürger – Papageno
Alison Rose – Papagena
Brindley Sherratt – Sarastro
Caroline Wettergreen – Queen of the Night
Jörg Schneider – Monostatos
Esther Dierkes – First Lady
Marta Fontanals-Simmons – Second Lady
Katharina Magiera – Third Lady
Michael Kraus – Speaker
Martin Snell – First Priest/Second Man in Armour
Thomas Atkins – Second Priest/First Man in Armour

supported by the Glyndebourne Chorus
and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth

10.10pm: As we exited the RAH and followed the other 5538 heading for the Tube, we smiled as we knew we only had a short walk back to a comfy bed, whereas the crowd were heading for a bake-off of their own in the shape of the Tube!

10.50pm: Back in our room, all that was left to do was to lighten our load going home by emptying the half-bottle of Pinot before crashing-out! 🥱

It’s been a great break! We’ve travelled light (and it worked well!); we’ve walked more than usual (hurrah!) and best of all, we avoided the high restaurant prices of the local area by eating from Waitrose! 😁. Thanks to Ann’s forensic pursuit of the best hotel-deals, our Hotel – the IBIS Styles, Gloucester Road – was a real find. For a budget brand, it exceeded our (very fussy) expectations and I’m sure we’ll be using them again on our travels.

London Calling!

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It’s been a while since we did this – and we’re certainly packing it in – a short two-day break to the Capital!

Deep breath, and here we go!

…Train from Bedford… …a brief meeting with Chris, our Financial Adviser… …dump our bags at the Hotel… …Champagne Lunch at the Ritz (thanks Roger, Jane and Oliver!)… …check into the Hotel… …off to Theatre-land to see The Play That Goes Wrong …an organised walk around ‘old’ Westminster (weather permitting)… …then the Churchill War Rooms …Dinner in Theatre-land… …the Opera (The Egyptian love-fest Aida)…

…and finally, probably for me, a lie down in a darkened room!

Friday, 20th We left ours just after 8.30am and had a hassle-free drive over to Bedford. That meant that we were parked in good time and caught the first off-peak (9.23) out of Bedford, getting us into St Pancras just before 10.25. So far, so good. Then, it was a shortish Tube journey round to JLT’s HQ in Houndsditch for our pre-arranged meeting with Chris, getting there just before 11am. It was a very productive get-together, and we’ve kicked-off our financial plans for 2018.

Meeting over, it was of to the highlight of the day – Champagne Lunch at The Ritz – courtesy of Roger, Jane and Oliver. We were last here with (a young, free and single) Roger, we think, over 25 years ago where we had both fallen foul of the very strict must-wear-a-tie-if-you’re-coming-in-here rule! As a punishment then, we had to wear some hideous polyester clip-on creation. The mental scars have just about healed, and this time I was prepared (although to tie a tie these days, is not the everyday routine it used to be!)

We were slightly early, arriving just before 1.20, but were soon seated and marvelling at the restaurant’s decor… Wow! what a posh place! …and busy too! …and good to see the tie dress-code being enforced. – as I checked-in our coats, an unsuspecting punter in front of me was spotted choosing from a drawer of hideous coloured ties before being allowed to set foot in the dining area! Been there, done that!

Dress-code inspection over, the rest was easy! Sit back and enjoy service and food at the very top of its game. Waiters-a-plenty, immaculately dressed in tails and white-tie completed the full-on dining experience. Fantastic! Just thirty minutes in, and the place was almost full (this was a popular dining destination, and the staff did a great job keeping us all fed and watered).

The Menu didn’t disappoint! I chose the Goose Liver, Loin of Lamb and the Soufflé, whilst Ann enjoyed the Monkfish, Guinea Fowl and also the Soufflé – all washed-down with a glass of ice-cold champers. Yum-yum… and some! With every course, prepared and presented with total dedication – as well as a full description of each by our Waiter – this was truly outstanding food with service to match!

In truth, although the portion sizes weren’t that large, the addition of hors d’oeuvres and petit-fours meant that by the end of the meal we certainly felt stuffed and it would have been rude (in spite of our stuffed-ness) not to complement our desserts with a glass of dessert wine and to finish with a coffee! All-in-all, the meal took a very relaxed two-hours, but as we left, it was clear that many of our fellow diners were planning to make an afternoon of it (maybe even a day!). Pi**-heads-of-the-week award must have certainly gone to the two guys sitting a few tables away, who managed to guzzle their way through two bottles of champagne AND a bottle of white wine during the time we were there. As we left, I saw one of them perusing the wine-list!! Let’s hope livers are on a two-for-one offer – yeesh! How do they do it??!! Sweeeeet! A glass of white Pineau des Charentes

We headed back to the Tube – and our Hotel. We’re staying at the Arbor City Hotel again (we were last here back in February 2016), a lovely modern affair, just a spit from Aldgate East tube and the famous Brick Lane. It’s in the very old and run-down part of Whitechapel, although these days, the area is looking more like a Manhattan skyline!

The view from Room 216

Just time for ‘feet-up’ before heading out to the Duchess Theatre for the 7.30 performance of The Play That Goes Wrong. It’s not everyone’s idea of humour, but it certainly tickled our funny-bone! Now in its third year, commented “It’s as though The Mousetrap has been taken over by Monty Python”. Suited us then!

I just managed to grab a quick snap of the Stage just before the Fascist-inspired Programme Seller told me off for daring to take a photo. It looked a simple set up (the Stage, not the Programme Seller) but as we were to discover over the next ninety-minutes, appearances can be very deceptive!

As expected, the Play was full of surprises. The performance even involved the audience before the 7.30 kick-off! (I won’t spoil the surprise here). It’s fair to say that just like their previous Play that we saw back in June 2016The Bank Robbery that Went Wrong – they pushed the boundaries of Theatre performances and set design in every sense, much to the delight of tonight’s audience! In fact, part of the fun for us was hearing the lady, a few rows behind us, fall into uncontrollable hysterical laughter at every sight-gag. I’m sure, in a previous life, she must have been a hyena! Getting the audience involved even extended to the Bar during the interval, where one of the actors (in character) was seen being manhandled towards the exit.

Wow! What an event!! Great entertainment, great energy and superb production values. If you prefer your humour slapstick, very visual and with a smidge of Basil Fawlty, this is the one for you! Those looking for a gentler style of humour, you’d be better off with 42nd Street across the road! The production finished around 9.30 and after giving our Oyster-cards a bit more of a workout, we were back in the Hotel by 10.15 – knackered (it must have been all that laughing!)

What a day! Highlight was most definitely Champagne Lunch at The Ritz – such a FANTASTIC experience all round, and lovely gift too! Thanks Roger, Jane and Oliver.

Saturday, 21st Ahh, the sounds of Friday-night London, there’s nothing quite like it! The gentle hum of the traffic, the occasional police siren – and (just for us) a gang of totally paralytic females outside the hotel at silly o’clock, screaming their lungs out! This meant that one of us didn’t sleep very well – and that doesn’t bode well for the rest of mankind today! – whilst the other slept through it all, not waking-up until 7am.

Lucky me!! After a quick Continental (the breakfast, not the dance) one of us was ready to take on the world, whilst the other probably just wanted to find last night’s funsters and murder them. Well, this is Jack the Ripper territory!

A quick check of the weather forecast after breakfast revealed a deteriorating day, with more than a chance of rain towards lunchtime. We decided therefore, to abandon the ‘Old Westminster’ walk and bring forward our visit to The Churchill War Rooms.

After the short hop on the Tube to Westminster, and then a short walk, we arrived at Clive Steps, home to the Rooms.

  We weren’t disappointed! The War Rooms were just packed with information about Churchill. And, whatever your views of him as a wartime leader, you couldn’t fail to be impressed by the sheer amount of information on display. From static displays, to interactive maps, films and re-created rooms, this place had it all.

    An hour-and-a-half later, we were all ‘churchilled-out’ and decided to head for John Lewis in Oxford Street in search of a replacement for our Christmas tree that met its fate as part of the clear-out during our Lounge project earlier this year. We decided to walk from the War Rooms to Oxford Street, that on reflection, wasn’t a great idea – for two reasons. One, it felt like it was miles from where we were (it was!) and two, we went via Burlington Arcade and Bond Street where nearly every shop is a Jewellers. Understandably, one of us was distracted by all the bling on offer (Actually, Ann was too!)

On the yomp walk there, we passed through the famous Arcade and then onto Horseguards, where there was plenty of both – horses and Guards… and (we’re not sure why) dozens of armed policemen too! Whatever was going on, had certainly attracted the crowds – but we seemed to have arrived just as ‘it’ was ending.

Having safely navigated the shops in the Arcade and Bond Street (without as much as a ruffle of plastic) we arrived at JL. First stop, a place to eat, in the appropriately titled ‘The Place to Eat’ (how do they think of these names?). In a complete contrast to yesterday’s complete ‘blow-out’ of a lunch, today was a more modest affair – and I didn’t need a tie either! ..a humble bags of crisps, a cake and a coffee! After a quick mooch round, we decided to head back to base as somehow the AC had failed in the shop and we were roasting (it also explained why most male staff were in shirt-sleeves!)

Time then for a short rest in the Hotel before heading back into Theatre-land and a planned meal at the Koha Restaurant in St Martin’s Court for 5.30.

…and what a find! Nestled between the Stage Doors of The Wyndham and Coward Theatres, this wasn’t a particularly large restaurant – almost intimate – and they offered an exciting French-inspired menu. It was a bit off the main drag, which meant it was fairly quiet when we arrived – that’s just how we like it! Service was very attentive without being OTT and we were soon studying the wine-list and menu. With a G&T, a Cosmopolitan Cocktail and a couple of glasses of wine on order – as well as the food, all we needed to do now was sit back and wait for the Chef to do his magic. There was an acceptable wait between courses, that did suggest to us the food was cooked from scratch… Risotto for me as a Starter followed by the own Burger… ..and Bailey’s panna cotta to finish!

By the time we left just after 7, the place was much fuller – obviously, it’s a well known eatery and overheard conversations suggested there were quite a few ‘regulars’ eating there pre-theatre. I have a feeling we’ll be back here again next time we’re heading for the Theatre or Opera. A great eatery! The big event for this particular visit ‘to the smoke’ was a spot of culture in the shape of ENO’s 2017 production of Verdi’s #Aida. It’s a re-imagined version abandoning the traditional costumes, but the tunes stay the same!

This was a very lavish affair and the familiar tale of boy-meets-girl/girl-loves-boy/girl-ends-up-as-slave/slave owner loves boy/Egypt-declares-war-on-Ethiopia/slave’s father-invades-boy’s country/girl-wrestles-with-who-to-support/girl dies (as per most operas!).

Phew! Are you keeping up at the back? ENO’s lavish love-fest was spread over four Acts with an intermission halfway, and ran for just over two-and-a-half hours. The sets were fantastic, the lighting imaginative, the costumes gorgeous and the voices sounded like they were made from honey – the only thing that spoiled it (for me) was how depressing the storyline was! (I really should have read the full synopsis more thoroughly beforehand). I know already, if you’re the leading lady in opera, you’ve a higher-than-average chance of ‘pegging it’ by the end, but this was the most depressing storyline I’ve ever experienced (and yes, I do watch EastEnders!). What was Verdi ‘on’ when he wrote this? Whatever it was, he should have changed it and perhaps gone down the Pub instead – or the restaurant we visited earlier, as that would have certainly brought a smile to his face! It wasn’t a complete sell-out, but based on the screaming of ‘bravo’ over my right shoulder when the cast took to the stage at the end, many were impressed with tonight’s performance.

As we left the Theatre with the masses and walked to the Tube, it felt good to be part of the ‘buzz’ in London – especially on a Saturday night.

This was a great way to finish our latest trip into this fair city and we’re heading home after breakfast tomorrow.

Nut Cracked and Balls Busted!

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OK, a straightforward Saturday then. Drive to Kettering station, park the car, grab the train to London, get a cab to the Royal Opera House, see The Nutcracker. Job done!

Err, no!

We got the station in good time, to see around 200 people waiting for a train to London on platform 3! Something was wrong, seriously wrong! It turned out that there was a major signalling problem and there were no trains up from, and down to, London.

’Plan B’ then. Back to the car, and if I busted my balls and drove like a loony, we could get to Bedford Station, park up, and then grab a train from there into St Pancras. Even then, timing would be tight.

Someone was smiling on us and we got to there in good time, deposited the car and jumped on the next train south. It arrived at St Pancras just after 1.40. That left us with just 20 minutes to get to the Opera House. Mission impossible? Quite probably! but Ann briefed the taxi driver and emphasised our deadline. Seconds later, we were breaking the sound barrier hurling through the back streets of London on a promise from the taxi-driver that “we’ll make it, in plenty of time…”

He was true to his work and we were going through the front door of the Opera House at 1.53 – with a generous 7 minutes to spare!

We took our seats, surprising Roger, Jane and Oliver (who didn’t know we were going there as well) and settled down for a bit of Christmassy escapism.

Royal Opera House

Just slightly later than advertised, it was curtain-up. It was a full-house and we were treated to a fantastic production – lavish sets, superb dancing and (for the girls) large cricket-boxes! Smile

When the production finished around 4.20 we grabbed a cab, and at a more leisurely pace, headed for St Pancras International  and something to eat. We settled for the St Pancras restaurant and their afternoon tea. There was plenty to go round – even for Oliver!

An hour-or-so later, we said our good-byes and headed for the train home. As we got close to the concourse at about 6.15, we realised there was still a problem. The train timetable was still ‘to-cock’ and there were hundreds waiting for a connection. Luckily for us, our timed-train, the 19.00 was running to time, and as it turned out, we were unaffected. Picking the car up from Bedford Station, we hurtled home, and were indoors by 8.30.

It’s been a great day, but  that initial problem with the trains did threaten to screw things up!

Saturday in London – Ann’s Night at the Opera (Part 2)

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After a hearty breakfast in the hotel, we headed off towards the Tube switching into tourist mode (sharpening elbows and deleting ‘excuse me’ from our personal dictionary). Weather-wise, it’s a lovely warm day down here – perfect!

First stop was the V and A. We haven’t been there for quite a few years and it was good to go back there. The highlight was the Private Eye exhibition – truly excellent.
At the V and A 

 At the V and A

At the V and A

Then it was off to Science Museum. Once again, it had totally changed since our previous visit about 50 years ago! An excellent experience all round with lots to do, especially for kids (so I was alright then!)
Science Museum

Then it was off by bus to Harrods for a quick look round and then onto Johnson Lewis and finally the House of Fraser. Mission accomplished as Ann managed to find some ear-rings and a short jacket for the wedding!

Then, back on the bus (yes, me on the bus!) back to the hotel for a bit of a chill-out before the opera tonight – La Traviata at the Royal Opera House.

We got to the Opera House in pretty good time and left us enough space to order drinks for the interval and get our seats in good time. The performance was a sell-out and when the curtain went up just after 7, we were now in ‘opera-mode’ and reminding ourselves of the story-line (well, me actually, as Ann knew anyway!!!)
Curtian up (almost!)







As you would expect, it’s a love story. And as so often happens in operas, the ending wasn’t pleasant for the heroine! 35 minutes to die was pushing it a bit, but she did so with great style – and song!

So, what’s the story?

Boy meets Girl. Girl is a serious party animal, but Girl is also ill with something or other. Boy falls in love with Girl. Girl wrestles with the party-scene vs nice-comfy-slippers dilemma. Girl chooses slippers. Boy’s father turns up after they’re married to confront her about her debts (too much catalogue shopping!) and forces her to leave Boy without explaining why. Boy thinks she’s run off with another Boy and so follows her to a party. Boy confronts other boy and shoots him (as you do!) much to the disappointment of the guests. Boy is ridiculed and flees the country.

OK so far? Girl health deteriorates and just as she’s about to die, Boy turns up and it looks like a happy-ever-after. A quick dance around the floor and she pegs it. Cue gallons of tears on stage – as well as off. Curtain comes down, sobbing audience heads for Tube.

Moral of the story? Stay off the Catalogues … be careful about your Father-in-law …Don’t follow girls to parties …Take out private medical insurance 🙂

On a more serious note – the performance was excellent. A girl with a ‘good pair of lungs’  can mean many things – in this case it meant just that – what a voice!!! I reckon she could have knocked down walls at 100 paces!!!!

Marina Poplavskaya played Violetta (she of the large lungs)

James Valenti played Alfredo Germont (saw him in Madama Butterfly too!)

Robert Poulton played Baron Douphol (a voice so deep he’d get a job in Richer Sounds – geddit!!! …as a sub-woofer)

The performance finished around 10.15 to fantastic applause all round. We headed back to the hotel by way of the Tube deliberately avoiding Covent Garden because of the gazillions of people there. We walked back to Piccadilly Circus and were soon heading to the Bar at the Hotel. A couple of glasses of Vouvray, pork pie and chips set us up nicely and we crashed out around 11.30.

We’re on the 10am out of St Pancras International tomorrow and should be home by 11.30ish.

It’s been a great weekend! – we especially loved the St Pancras Grand Hotel for its architecture and how easy it made it for us to and from our destinations

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