Family Days Out in North Devon: A Gnome Reserve Not To Miss

Family Days Out in North Devon: A Gnome Reserve Not To Miss

What would you do with 4 acres in North Devon? Artist Anne Atkins created a gnome reserve with more than 2000 garden gnomes – a veritable gnome village if you will.  And, an adjoining wildflower trail (free space for the gnomes to frolic?).  One of the quirkiest places to visit in North Devon, this gnome world makes a great family day out. Sort of like the Elf Garden in Iceland, my kids thoroughly enjoyed their time. We met a few families who were return visitors so clearly this gnome world in Devon is a popular attraction.

Gnome village | gnome Ann |  gnome reserve | family days out in North Devon | gnome sweet gnome| gnome reserve Devon | gnome world Devon

Family Days Out in North Devon: A Gnome Reserve Not To Miss

The Gnome reserve and wildflower trail is a quirky quintessentially English experience. For a child, it’s a world of romping in forests and magical mystery adventures that Enid Blyton would recognise. For an adult, the gnome world is English eccentricity in all of its random yet harmless outrageousness.

Gnome Ann

Founded in 1979 by trained artist Ann Atkins, the Gnome Reserve and wildflower garden is a charming place tucked away in a corner of North Devon. Ann mans the visitor centre and her family operate the gnome village and wildflower centre. She seems to be about 80 years old so she clearly is enjoying her work if she’s still doing it almost 4 decades later.

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Gnome Ann painting her gnomes and pixies

The Gnome Reserve has a lot of appearances on television and in books. We’re talking more than 70 times!  Ann’s art and prints are located in collections around the world.

Not only does Ann create the gnomes, Ann paints magical scenes of fairies and pixies that are sold in the gift shop. Of course, my daughter got a painting for her room and my son got a gnome with an Arsenal shirt for his favourite football team.

Gnome village | gnome Ann |  gnome reserve | family days out in North Devon | gnome sweet gnome| gnome reserve Devon | gnome world Devon

The English gnome football team (and they actually win trophies!)

Gnome Village

This visitor attraction will be part of the 25,000 people who visit annually. Like my kids, these are also the same sort of people who have seen Gnomeo and Juliet several times.

Visitor’s Centre

The Gnome reserve has a small visitor centre which has a gift store where you can watch Anne Atkins work on her projects in between tending to her visitors.

You can also see displays of some antique gnomes and grab some snacks to tide you over after walking four whole acres. British snacks of course involve cream tea, sandwiches and Ribena.

Gnome village | gnome Ann |  gnome reserve | family days out in North Devon | gnome sweet gnome| gnome reserve Devon | gnome world Devon

The royal family gnomes. Is it wrong that they actually look better than the real ones??

Did you know that the world’s most expensive garden gnome is insured for 1 million pounds and is stored in a bank vault? Try and snicker at that if you will.

Gnome World

Be prepared to don a gnome hat to visit the gnomes. It’s only polite to fit in with the locals.

Sheltered among the trees, the 2000+ gnomes are busy going about their business whether it’s fishing or practicing for the London Olympics. Amidst the gnomes, you get other cute creatures such as bunnies.

Gnome village | gnome Ann |  gnome reserve | family days out in North Devon | gnome sweet gnome| gnome reserve Devon | gnome world Devon

The gnomes have a case of invading bunnies

Fishing for stones makes for a nice interactive activity. Of course, my kids made it a competition to see who could get the most stones.

Gnome village | gnome Ann |  gnome reserve | family days out in North Devon | gnome sweet gnome| gnome reserve Devon | gnome world Devon

When you join the gnome world, you got to learn to fish.

Ann has so many gnomes her collection has entered the Guinness Book of World Records.

A Gnome World Gallery

Who knew gnomes could do everything that a person can do? My daughter decided her favourite gnome was the one practicing yoga and my son’s favourite was the one doing karate.

Gnome village | gnome Ann |  gnome reserve | family days out in North Devon | gnome sweet gnome| gnome reserve Devon | gnome world Devon

A game of gnome chess

Gnome village | gnome Ann |  gnome reserve | family days out in North Devon | gnome sweet gnome| gnome reserve Devon | gnome world Devon

A friendly game of gnome football

Gnome village | gnome Ann |  gnome reserve | family days out in North Devon | gnome sweet gnome| gnome reserve Devon | gnome world Devon

Nothing gnomes like better than fishing

Gnome village | gnome Ann |  gnome reserve | family days out in North Devon | gnome sweet gnome| gnome reserve Devon | gnome world Devon

A very British gnome wedding

Gnome village | gnome Ann |  gnome reserve | family days out in North Devon | gnome sweet gnome| gnome reserve Devon | gnome world Devon

Just hanging with the gnomies

Wildflower Trail

I have to be honest I expected more flowers in the wildflower trail sort of like a wildflower meadow. It could have been the season, but the wildflowers we saw were more plants that were clearly labelled.

Gnome village | gnome Ann |  gnome reserve | family days out in North Devon | gnome sweet gnome| gnome reserve Devon | gnome world Devon

The wildflower field is full of butterflies.

In fact, there were more than 200+ types of British wildflowers which are all labelled. I have  heard of many of the plants but had never seen them in real life. Or, if I did I didn’t know what they were!

For example, you hear about spearmint all the time as a chewing gum flavour but it was interesting to see (and to smell) the real plant.

A wildflower quiz kept the kids attention well.

Gnome village | gnome Ann |  gnome reserve | family days out in North Devon | gnome sweet gnome| gnome reserve Devon | gnome world Devon

A quiz to fill out on the wildflower walk

Visiting The Gnome Reserve Devon

The Gnome Reserve Devon is located in West Putford, near Bradworthy (a few miles from Closely) and near the border with Cornwall. It is open 7 days a week from March through October. Check out the Gnome Reserve Devon for costs and times.

Dogs are allowed in the reserve on leads. The narrow paths could be difficult with wheelchairs but fine with baby buggies.

We stayed at the Saunton Sands Hotel, a great family-friendly four-star hotel, approximately 45 minutes away by car from the gnome reserve.

What do you think?  Would you or your family enjoy a visit to the world’s first Gnome Reserve? 

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.

 

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Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

There aren’t many options for decent food, never mind good food, in the area between Waterloo and London Bridge. Located pretty much adjacent to Southwark station, Thai Silk stands out as a culinary beacon in this wilderness. Thai Silk is that rare beast – an affordable yet authentic Thai restaurant in London. With great food and service, this restaurant is a local Southwark treasure and attracts a neighbourhood crowd.

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

Authentic and affordable Thai cuisine near the Tate Modern Museum and the Imperial War Museum.

Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

We found the food appropriately spiced and tasty. We tried the Thai street food dishes which Thai Silk have recently started. The dishes include Thai sausages, crispy dried pork, Thai sour spare ribs and an assortment of salads.

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

Thai sour spare ribs

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

Minced Pork Cakes are part of the Thai street food menu.

By the way, when the menu says hot, they mean hot as in authentic Thai cuisine levels of  hot and spicy. I found out the eye-wateringly hard way! My husband thought it was fine though.

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

Black bean and prawns

My standout favourite dish was the panaeng gae (lamb shank cooked in a rich red curry). Wow! The curry had layers of flavour and the lamb just melted in your mouth.  The manager told us that we were not the only ones who love this dish.  Thai tourists come to his restaurant for a taste of home.

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

Lamb shank in rich red curry sauce (photo credit: Thai Silk)

There is a good value lunch special of a starter and a main course served with rice or noodles. Alternatively, an early bird dinner before 7pm offers a similar deal but with an extra vegetable dish.

We did not take our children to lunch with us at Thai Silk. In the spirit of experimentation (and gluttony) we tried out a few dishes on the menu on their behalf. For example, we sampled the chicken satay and the pork noodles and decided our children would have liked them.

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

The Chicken Sate was grilled to perfection with a mild peanut sauce.

Thai Silk Bar, Lounge and Karaoke

More than just a restaurant, Thai Silk is a place to gather and make memories. The restaurant has got a great outdoor space with lots of tables. I can see this outdoor patio being a major summer hangout when the weather is good.  In addition, there is a bar and lounge area with a DJ every Friday night.

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Restaurant in London

The stylish bar area at Thai Silk Southwark in London

In addition, there are karaoke rooms upstairs with over a 100,000 songs in multiple languages. After a few drinks, who knows you may want to challenge yourself beyond Katy Perry and find yourself wanting to sing out the latest Thai hit song!

Thai Silk Southwark

Bought by the Royal China group, there had been initial plans to change Thai Silk into another Royal China outpost. Luckily the new owners realised they had a neighbourhood gem on their hands and kept the restaurant as is. They did bring in some of their staff from the Royal China in Marylebone to oversee the place.

Thai Silk Southwark, An Authentic Thai Cuisine in London

If you are going to the fabulous Tate Modern Museum, you will get off at the Southwark tube stop. This restaurant is conveniently located right near the tube. Other nearby attractions are the Contemporary Applied Arts space (showcasing British craft), the Millennium Bridge, Imperial War Museums and the Imperial War Museums.  By the way, my children loved the Imperial War Museums.

Thai Silk is located at 94-95 Isabella Street, London SE1 8DA. It is open for lunch and dinner, drinks and private functions.

I received a complimentary lunch at Thai Silk in exchange for this review.  As always, this post and my opinions are my own.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

You can spot the Magical Lantern Festival held at Chiswick House in London from several roads away.  The bright colours in this Chinese light festival mark the inky sky over sleepy Chiswick in a striking gash much like a neon highlighter on paper.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

The Chinese lantern festival marked to end of the Chinese New Year celebrations has come to London.

The Magical Lantern Festival

Although the Magical Lantern Festival in Chiswick is in its second year, this Chinese light festival took several years to plan.  I could easily see why because the festival is very large and elaborate. It is part of the celebration of the Chinese New Year in 2017 which is the Year of the Rooster.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

The Lantern Festival is traditionally held at the end of Chinese of New Year.

The theme this year is the Silk Road which were ancient trade routes that criss-crossed from China to Europe. The Silk Road only got its name in the 19th century because it sounded romantic and the first merchandise traded was silk. For thousand of years, these routes had no name but plenty of trading activity. As a byproduct of trading activity, the Silk Road brought ancient cultures in touch with each other.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Merchants and camels on the silk road.

The Magical Lantern Festival is on in London in January and February. I felt sorry for its neighbours – that’s a long time to have your night sky lit up in day-glo colours. Prior to its arrival in London, the Magical Lantern Festival spent time in other British cities.he Chinese Lantern Festival

History of The Chinese Lantern Festival

Chinese lantern festivals date back a couple of thousands of years. During the Western Han Dynasty (206BC to 25 AD), the festival was being celebrated with lanterns in temples. When the devout Buddhist Emperor Hanmingdi heard that Buddhist monks light lanterns to Buddha on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, he ordered this practice countrywide. Later doing the Tang Dynasty, the use of lanterns spread to the palaces and streets.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

The elaborate palaces of the Tang Dynasty.

When is the Chinese Lantern Festival?

The Chinese Lantern Festival starts on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. In 2017 and 2018, the exact date will be February 11th and March 2nd, respectively. The Chinese Lantern Festival ends the biggest Chinese festival, Chinese New Year (aka China’s Spring Festival).

What do you do at the Chinese Lantern Festival?

Participating in the Chinese Lantern Festival does not require much exertion. Basically, you go around and admire all the lanterns.  Lanterns come in many shapes and sizes and themes. Lighting a lantern is a prayer for a smooth future ahead with all the best for the family.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

How’s this for an elaborate lantern?

There are other ways to appreciate this Chinese light festival other than just admiring the pretty lanterns. Often the lanterns have riddles which people try to solve. If you solve the riddle, you give your answer to the owner. If your answer is right, then the owner will give you a small prize. Lion dances are another custom done during lantern festivals. The lion dance is a traditional folk dance which is used to ward off evil. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Chinese festival unless there was food involved. The traditional food eaten during the Lantern Festival are little rice dumplings called Yuanxiao.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

A celebration of Chinese food

Where are the Major Lantern Festivals in China?

The biggest Lantern Festival in China is held in Quinhai in Nanjing which is supported by the local government who want it to be as big as the Harbin Ice Festival. The Quinhai festival is so famous it even gets a mention in an ancient Chinese novel, [easyazon_link identifier=”0385093799″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]The Dream of the Red Chamber[/easyazon_link], considered one of the world’s classic books.

There are other major lantern festivals as well, including the major cities of Beijing and Shanghai. During the Cultural Revolution, lantern festivals were banned.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Red is a lucky color for the Chinese.

Magical Lantern Festival Photo Gallery

We went to the Magical Lantern Festival in Chiswick even though the temperatures were freezing. Although we spent an hour to walk around, we would have taken even longer if we hadn’t been losing sensation in our limbs!  Luckily, the festival organisers had vendors selling gourmet marshmallows to toast as well as hot drinks which helped us out.  We also munched on hot churros for warmth (or that’s our excuse!).

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Toasting gourmet marshmallows over a fire to keep warm.

I know the Magical Lantern Festival touts the ice rink, the food vendors and the fun fair as activities for its visitors. On our visit, many people were foregoing these pleasures because it was just too cold.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

What would a Chinese festival be without a cute panda?

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

A magical walkway of lighted lanterns

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Swans are a popular symbol of love worldwide.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

We thought this elephant was too cute.

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

Wonders along the Silk Road included dolphins?

The Magical Lantern Festival, A Chinese Light Festival in London

I have no idea what fashion in Paris has to do with anything. Maybe the use of silks in fashion?

Have you been to a Chinese lantern festival?  I’d love to hear what you think.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids on a Free Literary Walking Tour

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids on a Free Literary Walking Tour

Mr. Darcy has already sunk his hooks into my daughter. Thanks to the influence of my friend’s older daughter, my daughter is enamoured with Pride and Prejudice. I couldn’t be happier because I am a huge fan of Jane Austen myself. My own favourite Austen novel is Northanger Abbey which she has yet to read. We recently did a mother-daughter road trip to Bath to check out some of the related Jane Austen sites. I wanted her to understand the novel a bit better because the Georgian age is so different from today. I found that visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with kids is relatively easy because the city is both small and delightful.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

Jane Austen’s writing was heavily influenced by her stay in Bath England.

Jane Austen and Bath

“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody. ”

– Jane Austen

Jane Austen in Bath

Having visited the Jane Austen Centre we understood more how Jane’s circumstances influenced her novels.  On her first visit to Bath, Jane and her sister lived in a posh rental flat with her parents. When her father died in 1805 though, the loss of his income drastically changed their circumstances. Jane and her mother and sister moved between increasingly shabbier rental flats until her brother came to their rescue. Having been adopted at an early age by a wealthy relative, he had the financial independence to let them stay rent-free in a house he owned in Chawton, England.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

You can see the distance from Bath to Chawton on this map along with a postcard of the cottage at Chawton.

You can see how these 9 years – 5 years of being moderately well-off and then 4 years as a poor relative – would affect her analysis of a woman’s place in society. In Georgian England, a woman was dependent upon some man to take care of her. Jane was one of eight children. Her brothers were all able to take care of themselves through various options such as inheritance or the military.

With only a limited inheritance, she and her sister were in a bit of tough spot. They were not allowed to earn any money themselves but the lack of inheritance would put off many suitors. Although Jane was engaged very  briefly to a wealthy suitor, she called off her engagement. She really couldn’t bring herself to marry someone just for financial security.

Only two of Jane Austen’s novels are set in Bath – Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. In Northanger Abbey, the main character is enamoured of Bath very much like Jane herself in her early years in Bath. In Persuasion, however, her character reflects Jane’s later attitude where she finds herself a bit tired of the scene. Her other novels though are influenced by Jane’s experiences in Bath.

The Jane Austen Visitor Center

The Jane Austen Visitor Center is a small townhouse near one of Jane’s mother’s favourite squares, Queens Square. A ticket will gain you entry into a small guided museum. Alternatively, you can go straight upstairs to the Regency-inspired tea room for refreshments.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

The entrance to the Jane Austen visitor centre has a statue of Jane at the front.

We enjoyed our tour immensely.  While you are waiting for the guide, there is a video about Jane Austen. In an adjoining room, my daughter did a word search on Jane Austen and her books.

The tour guide gives you a short introduction to Jane Austen’s life and family.  Then she leads you downstairs to see some memorabilia associated with Austen. There is a short 10 minute film in this area as well.  The highlight of our experience was the dressing up area. My daughter got to wear some regency clothes, learn how to use a fan to flirt like the Georgians, and have pretend tea.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

The dressing up cupboard of Regency clothes we raided.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

My daughter attempting to flirt with a Mr. Darcy.

Jane Austen’s Bath With Kids

The elegant Palladian architecture of Bath today would be recognisable to Jane Austen. We could easily imagine ourselves in Georgian times. The city of Bath is fairly compact and easy to walk around. A walking tour of Jane Austen’s Bath with kids is a painless ask (assuming your kid is interested in the topic).

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

On the tour route you will find this Grand Parade (with Pulteney Bridge in the Background)

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

The famous Pump Room in Bath with the Cathedral in the background.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

The inside of the famous Pump Room is now a tea room.

The city of Bath has a free audio tour of Jane Austen’s Bath that we did. You get a PDF map as well as a audio download which tells you the major attractions of the city interspersed with extracts from her writings. We followed the tour (which takes you right past the Jane Austen Centre) and we may have even done a bit of shopping along the way.

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

A spot of dressing up and pretend tea party at the Jane Austen centre

Jane Austen’s Legacy

Having published only 3 works before she died in 1817, her family published her remaining 3 works posthumously. The royalties for her works were given to her beloved sister. The reasons for Jane’s death are unclear.

Jane Austen is today considered one of England’s greatest writers. In 2017, the Bank of England issued new £10 notes featuring Jane Austen, the first woman on British currency that wasn’t the monarch.

Jane Austen’s works have been adapted for younger readers from toddlers to young kids.  For example for babies, there is Pride and Prejudice andSense and Sensibility both by Jennifer Adams. For younger readers, there are the Real Reads series of all 6 Austen books including Emma retold by Gill Tavene (pictured below).

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

I’m not sure I want to introduce my kids this early to the concept of singledom and marriage.

Other writers have adapted Jane Austen’s books not only for film and television but also set them in different places. It’s a testament to these novels that they can be completely changed but the story still works. For example, Emma by Alexander McCall Smith (the author of the acclaimed No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series set in Botswana) has the heroine in a contemporary setting returning home to set up her own business after graduating from university.

Other variations on Austen books include Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid, Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, Death Comes To Pemberley by P.D. James, Longbourn by Jo Baker and Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange..

Visiting Jane Austen’s Bath with Kids

A selection of the novels by contemporary authors inspired by Jane Austen.

Every September if you are in Bath, the city holds a 10 day Jane Austen in Bath festival. My daughter and I are already making plans to return for the festival!

Looking for Jane Austen’s bath england with kids

Emma retold by Gill Tavner for young kids

Know Before You Go

We stayed at 15 Great Pulteney street, a luxury boutique hotel on Great Pulteney Street which is a grand street leading of the Pulteney Bridge. The convenient location made our visit around Jane Austen’s Bath very easy. My daughter was delighted with our bedroom with its beautiful trompe l’eoil canopy bed.

Jane Austen’s former home on Sydney Place is now luxury apartment accommodation. Available through Bath Boutique Stays,  Jane Austen’s Home and Apartments  are 4 apartments that can sleep between 2-4 people.

This article contains affiliate links for which our disclosure policy is available.

So This Is Christmas:  A Photo Gallery of Festive Events in London

So This Is Christmas: A Photo Gallery of Festive Events in London

If you haven’t had a chance to visit London this Christmas, I’ve got a virtual tour of festive events that will have you planning to visit London next year in December!  From the City of London to the West End, Londoners take Christmas very seriously.

A photo gallery of Christmas in London

A photo gallery of Christmas in London

The Christmas Makeover of Dennis Severs’ House

Dennis Severs was an American with way too much money and a love for period architecture.  He restored a house in Spitalfields where the Huguenot silk weavers had settled in the 18th century after they had fled persecution for their faith from France. The house is now ‘still life drama’ with each floor showing how the fortunes of the house (and occupants) fared from the 19th century to the 20th century.

For Christmas the house is decorated like it would have been during the period portrayed included smells and noises. I really did feel like I had my own Ghost of Christmas past leading me through the house. Needless to say, the Victorian period did make you feel you were hanging out with Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol in all of their sad squalor.

Festive events in London

The entrance to Dennis Severs’ House lit with gas lamps.

No photographs are allowed inside the house but the museum does have a YouTube video showing you what to expect.

The Most Festive Pub in Britain

The Churchill Arms in Notting Hill in London has been called the most festive pub in London.  It’s got 90 Christmas trees strapped to its outside and is decorated with 21,000 lights.  I would say having a pint (or two) inside counts as a festive event in London don’t you?

Festive events in London

The Churchill Arms in Notting Hill is as festive as you can get.

Festive events in London

The trees are all held up by netting. Let’s hope a strong wind doesn’t blow!

Harrods, the Christmas Experience

Harrods this year went with a very British fairy tale Christmas theme.  The windows were decorated with mannequins of children and animals. I guess in times of world uncertainty it all goes back to children and animals (and very expensive accessories).  I found it underwhelming – perhaps all in just too good taste. Let’s face it, no one goes to Harrods to experience good taste.

Festive events in London

Geometric animals and expensive accessories in the Harrods’ windows.

One of the funniest things we saw in Harrods this year was a mother chasing her child who was wailing that she wanted her Elsa doll NOW.  The 3 year old was too fast for the mother who was teetering around in heels. I’m sure the mother was thinking that quality time with her child was overrated.

The Santa Grotto at Harrods is in the massive toy department. The appointments open in August and it is usually full up by October.  I remember taking my kids to the Santa Grotto each year and dreading having to go through the toy department. It definitely is a lesson in fortitude.

Festive events in London

My daughter punching a very British festive fairy (inadvertently).

The Harrods Food Hall has great gifts if you need something easy to give someone you don’t know very well.  It’s easily packaged and the Harrods name conveys that you care (enough to pay over the odds).

Festive events in London

Harrods makes gift giving easy

Festive events in London

The food hall decked out for the holidays to distract you from the prices of the products.

Festive events in London

These prices are fine if you send your butler to shop for Christmas and you don’t see the bills.

Festive Window Shopping

Like in Paris, New York and other big cities, the big hotels and department stores do very creative festive displays.

 

Festive events in London

The Mandarin Oriental Hotel decked out for the holidays.

The Harvey Nicks window displays were not as colorful as last year. They were more interesting though than Harrods.  A certain Let Them Eat Cake attitude prevailed.

Festive events in London

Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.

I have no idea why some of the stores in London and New York both insisted on having insects in their windows. I personally found it creepy even if the fashionistas declare that insects are a big thing for next season.

Festive events in London

Because nothing says Christmas like giant creepy-crawlies.

Dolce and Gabbana went back to Sicilian roots with a decadent store front display.

Festive events in London

I’ll take the bags, leave the cannoli.

The Lights, The Trees etc.

My favourite tree this year was in front of the art school, Central Saint Martins, in Granary Square in Kings Cross. The 17 foot Christmas tree with 1200 lights is frozen in resin created to look like a giant block of ice. The ice puddles into the fountains in which it is located in an effect created by 550 pounds of melted clear wax. It’s called “Fighting Fire with Ice Cream” by Alex Chinneck who is known for creating OTT public works of art.

Festive events in London

It’s called Fighting Fire with Ice Cream because “Christmas Tree in Ice Block” would have been too bourgeois a name.

festive events london

The Christmas tree in a block of ice:  as cold as the spirit of the season captured in the heart of capitalist London (or something like that) Photo credit: Kings Cross.

For some more traditional Christmas festive events such as the ice rinks that dot the city and the lights at Oxford Circus, check out this video put together by the Visit London:

What do you think?  Would you now consider coming to London in December?  The days may be short and dark, but there is plenty of sparkle in the city nonetheless.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

What you may ask is a gherkin?  It’s a small pickled cucumber.  The wit and wisdom of the British nicknamed the Swiss Re Tower at 30 St. Mary Axe in London as The Gherkin.  In fact, everyone calls it The Gherkin, a name given to the Swiss Re Tower even when it was in its early planning stages. Now a London landmark and lauded throughout the world for its instantly recognisable design, I can’t imagine the city without The Gherkin. You can see it from lots of different angles with its fat tummy sticking out behind more slender buildings.  Usually closed to the public, my family and I lined up at Open House London to get a peek inside this famous building.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

Although usually closed to the public, the Gherkin offers fantastic views over London.

The Gherkin’s Architecture

Opened in 2004, the Swiss Re Tower was designed by British starchitect Norman Foster and his firm Foster + Partners as the headquarters for the insurance firm, Swiss Re.  In addition to this insurance company, the building does have other office occupants as well.  The Gherkin building stands on the spot of the former Baltic Exchange building which got bombed by the Provisional IRA in 1992.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Gherkin looming over some more traditional architecture nearby.

As with the Foster + Partner’s designed ME Hotel, I found the interior design very masculine.  Everywhere you look, you see lots of sleek straight lines with minimal ornamentation.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

A vase of flowers softens all the geometrical lines. The bathrooms are hidden behind the studded walls. No handles to ruin the lines.

The Swiss Re Tower uses eco-friendly principles to minimise its impact on the environment.  For example, the use of clever air shafts allow the building to use passive solar heating in the winter.  I appreciate that the Swiss Re building is not very tall.  Although striking and hard to miss, the Gherkin does not dominate the skyline by towering over all the buildings near it.

What is The Gherkin Used For?

The Gherkin is an office building with the top three floors used as a private club.  The building is located in the City of London Corporation (the financial heart of the City of London which is also known as the Square Mile).  Confusing, right?  As with many things in Britain, the names originated from historical context.  For example, the City of London Corporation has its own Lord Mayor (different from the Mayor of London).  Just go with it.

The Gherkin and Open House London

The Gherkin is not open to the general public except in certain circumstances.  For example, Searcy’s at The Gherkin restaurant and bar occasionally opens its doors to non-members. You can also get a free peak inside the Gherkin during the annual Open House Weekend held in London every September.

On previous Open House Weekends, we have been to Marlborough House in the St. James’s area of London but this year my son insisted on visiting The Gherkin.  He loves architecture, and specifically skyscrapers, so we have visited tall buildings all around the world (Tokyo Tower, One World Observatory etc).

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Swiss Re building has its own small plaza surrounding its entrance.

We had avoided The Gherkin on previous Open Houses because the lines to enter this building are notoriously long. This year was no different. When we got to the building on the Sunday at 9 AM, the line was already wrapping around the corner.  Apparently the first people in line had gotten there by 6 AM.  Now that’s dedication to architecture!

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Open House organisers had children’s activities on the plaza to keep the kids in line occupied. Here my daughter is sketching the Gherkin.

We stood in line for an hour and half before we were able to get inside the building.  My daughter was completely over it but my son was determined to stay and get inside.  We were ushered inside in small groups which involved more waiting for elevators. Once inside, we were sent straight up to the floor Searcys occupies.  It looked like they moved all the furniture to keep tacky commoners from messing up the nice stuff.

Of course, we had all been waiting in long for so long, once people got inside, they headed straight for the bathrooms. We only had about 15 minutes for the visit before we were marched back to the elevators, and the line for the ladies’ room was going to take 10 minutes at least.  I told my daughter that she’d just have to deal because we were not waiting in line for an hour and half just to use the restroom inside and not see anything else!!

Photo Gallery Of London From The Swiss Re Tower

The 360 degree view from the Searcys Bar is spectacular even on a cloudy day like we encountered.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

More traditional architecture in the form of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

You can see the shard and the Walkie Talkie buildings from the Gherkin.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

This building, the Mayor of London’s HQ, is known as The Testicle for obvious reasons.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Thames winds its way to the Docklands financial centre at Canary Wharf.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

A bird’s eye view of Tower Bridge and The Tower of London

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

Another view of the so-called Walkie Talkie building in London.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

This is the new London building called The Cheese Grater.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

I used to work here at Tower 42. It used to be the old NatWest headquarters. From above when the CEO landed on the tower’s helipad, the building was shaped like the NatWest logo.

Searcys The Gherkin

Searcys, the private members’ club, offers 360 degree views of London. The Gherkin restaurant is located on the 39th floor and the bar on the 40th floor.  They do let non-members into Searcys Gherkin for specific occasions like the Diamond in the Sky Afternoon Tea for Christmas.  Everyone gets a champagne flute, tea and scones for £65 a person  Sorry, it’s already sold out.  There are also the occasional lunches and dinners at the Gherkin restaurant starting at a reasonable £50 per person.

Fun Facts About The Gherkin in London

  • There are 41 floors of which 33 are office floors.
  • Even though the building is curved, there is only one piece of curved glass in the structure – the dome at the top of Searcys at The Gherkin.
A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The dome at the top of the Swiss Re Tower in London.

  • Each floor rotates 5 degrees from the floor below to give the triangular glass windows its diagonal swish.
  • Almost 7500 panes of glass and 35 kilometres of steel were used in the construction of the building.
  • The elliptical ‘gherkin’ like shape is a result of the structure been 180 metres tall and 178 metres wide at its widest part.
  • The Gherkin made an appearance in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.

I personally think The Gherkin in London looks like a bullet.  Wouldn’t The Bullet have been a cooler nickname? In the USA, I’m pretty sure the nickname would have been The Bullet.  Calling the building The Gherkin though is much more in line with self-deprecating British humour.

A View From The Swiss Re Tower AKA The Gherkin Building in London

The Gherkin Building is easily spotted in London but not generally open to the public to view the inside.

Practical Info To Know Before You Go

The Gherkin is easily accessible by tube or train from Liverpool Street Station, Aldgate Station or London Fenchurch Street.  You can’t miss it.  Just look for it in the skyline poking out.  If you are going to visit The Swiss Re Tower for Open House London, get there early.  By noon on the Sunday of the Open House, we saw that the line to enter The Gherkin snaked around several city blocks.

If you are staying in the City of London Corporation, I have friends who highly recommend the Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell. The Zetter is also a family-friendly boutique hotel which provides interconnecting family rooms, baby monitors, cot beds etc.  The buzzing creative neighbourhood of Clerkenwell has lots of restaurants, cafes and bars. In fact I used to live around the corner (before it became an epicentre of cool though).  You can walk easily into the financial centre or the West End.

Further Reading

[easyazon_link identifier=”1590204328″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Norman Foster:  A Life in Architecture[/easyazon_link] by Deyan Sudjic

[easyazon_link identifier=”1902910389″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]London Architecture[/easyazon_link] by Marianne Butler

[easyazon_link identifier=”0415825024″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]London’s Contemporary Architecture[/easyazon_link] by Ken Allinson

[easyazon_link identifier=”1447276272″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]This is London[/easyazon_link] by Ben Judah

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