Things to do and places to stay when in London.
by Essexgirl09 on February 20, 2013
I recently booked to attend a ‘Black Tie and Posh Frocks’ Party at Holiday Inn Kensington Forum through a multi-activity group I am a member of. This review is of my experience staying at the hotel, and dining in their function rooms. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATIONThe hotel is based at 97 Cromwell Road which is just a few minutes walk from Gloucester Road tube station (Piccadilly, Circle & District lines). Strangely however the main entrance is actually on Courtfield Road which runs parallel. Basically turn right out of the tube, right again and you will see it on the skyline – it has 27 floors. Nearby are a few local shops such as a small Waitrose and Tesco, and several small restaurants. You are close to the Victoria & Albert museum, Earl’s Court exhibition centre and Kensington gardens; all of which are in walking distance. CHECK INYou enter through big swing doors to a massive, airy lobby with a long check in desk down one side, and a bar and coffee shop on another, with plenty of seating.The check in process was a disaster. You can supposedly check in at 2pm, I arrived at 4.15 and there were only two receptionists working on the lengthy front desk, bothing dealing with other guests. I waited patiently as a queue built up behind me. A lady from the Business Desk came and asked me to go with her. We trekked across the massive lobby and round the corner and she tried to check me in. It was a slow process as their system logged her out and we had to wait and then my room wasn’t ready as it was still being cleaned, so they tried to get me another but as the hotel was full they did not have anywhere else to put me. After twenty minutes I managed to get checked in and headed back to the lobby where friends who had checked in before me were finishing cups of tea and wondering what had happened to me. THE ROOMMy twin room was on the 16th floor. Sadly we had a North facing room, but those with a South facing room got a lovely view out across London and various landmarks. The room is quite simply furnished – there is a built in wardrobe as you go in on your left – those awkward hangers that I can never get off/on properly There is also a dressing table/desk with flat screen TV. For me there were not enough power sockets: in this digital age, someone always needs to be charging their phone, plus I needed to use tongs before I went out, so it involved some juggling. Each bed has two pillows (choice of soft or firm), a duvet, overhead light and bedside table. Windows are large and span the width of the room for natural light (should the sun have bothered to show up). Supplied bits and bobs include and iron and ironing boards, basic tea and coffee making facilities and an un-powerful hairdryer under the dressing table. There was space for a fridge but it was empty. The bathroom is to the right as you come in and contained a sink, WC, and shower over a bath. One set of towels were in the room, the spare set were in the wardrobe. They also supplied face cloths which many places don’t seem to do. Freebie toiletries include a bath/shower gel and shampoo as well as a little soap. FUNCTIONSAs I mentioned above I was here to attend a private function, which was held in the Lennon suite on the 1st floor. Our room held eleven tables of ten quite comfortably with a bar area, DJ and dance floor. The bar area was quite compact, it wasn’t a fixed bar, just some tables in the corner of the room, and upon arrival there were two men working behind it, I saw a friend leaving as there were only limited wines available and they were going to purchase a bottle from the downstairs bar. I ordered a rose wine for a friend (£20.35 per bottle) but the bartender had to go and fetch it, which was quite a wait. At this point I was not impressed with the waiting around I had done in this hotel. However he did let me have the glass of Run Punch for free (usually £4.50) so I let him off on this occasion! Later in the evening there was just one person behind the bar and he was very efficient remembering regular orders. The meal was a set menu – I had the veggie option. For meat-eater they had a liver pate with a salad garnish to start. It seemed a generous portion and I didn’t see much get left. My starter was a goats’ cheese salad with olives, tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber. It was tasty and also a good size, although if I were to be picky I would say there were too many chunky pieces of cucumber, but that is just my personal preference. For mains there was chicken with new potatoes, carrots and mange tout. There appeared to be a small amount of gravy with it but the consensus was this it was too dry. I had a mushroom risotto which, as far as I could tell, had the contents of no more than one mushroom in it. I left the final two-thirds of the plain risotto as it was a bit boring. The risotto was garnished with parmesan, which isn’t vegetarian, so I moved that to one side. Dessert was more successful being a cheesecake with berry compote. The DJ was a private hire and not connected to the hotel, but the hotel rules state that all music must finish at midnight. Outside the function suite was a cloakroom for those not staying at the hotel and lavatories. The Ladies’ loos were clean and well stocked of all the necessary supplies. I think there were about 5 cubicles but I never had to wait, even thought they were supposedly busy. Either I timed it right each time or there were plenty of other lavatories on the same floor. BREAKFASTBreakfast is also served on the 1st floor and the room can be spotted from the lift. We gave the man our room number and we were seated. There is a large buffet area in the middle. One section was for cols items – Danish pastries, breads, cheese/meats, cereals, fruits salad, a range of juices etc. I had a couple of glasses of their fresh orange juice – nice and chilled, fresh yet not too bitty that it left a residue around the rim of the glass. There was also apple, cranberry and one other flavour of juice. I started with some fresh fruit - orange segments, pineapple, grapefruit and melon were all present and correct, with yoghurt if you wish. I finished off with a visit to the hot buffet where perfectly cooked fried eggs, hash browns, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, baked beans, sausages and bacon awaited you, all freshly cooked and hot. Although self-service it was attended by a chef who kept an eye on everything for you. There was also an omelette bar, cooking to order. OTHER FACILITIESThe hotel has a business centre, and various meeting rooms/conference facilities. There is wi-fi available in public areas, but my friend said it was expensive, so I didn’t investigate further. There is a fitness centre here, I didn’t visit it but I gather it contains gym equipment; there is no pool or sauna. In the lobby, there is a bar and café area selling alcoholic drinks, teas/coffees etc as well as some snacks. I didn’t dine in the restaurant, so I cannot comment on prices or standard of food (I would hope it was better than the function suite). After our function we went to the ‘tavern’ downstairs for drinks. It is a large room made to look like the inside of a pub. There isn’t a great deal of atmosphere here and it shuts at 2am. I believe snacks can be purchased here, but I don’t recall seeing any. A round including a glass of wine, a vodka and mixer plus a pint of lager came to just shy of £15.There is parking onsite – although at £33 per day, you may wish to get the train! CHECK OUTChecking out time is a civilised 12 noon. As we exited the lift a member of staff took our electronic key cards and wished us a safe onward journey. Although I found I had to wait for service quite often at this hotel, all the staff were polite and apologetic, and no one was ever rude.
by Essexgirl09 on February 4, 2013
I have visited Camden on a number of occasions now, nearly always to visit the market. To talk of Camden market as a singular entity is mis-leading, as there are several different types of market in the area. Obviously stalls do change, and your personal experience may be different, so I am basing my review on my most recent visit (Feb. 2013 and the previous visit in the summer of 2012).The easiest way to get here is by tube. I usually get off at Camden Town tube station (Northern Line) which is closest. However it can get a bit gridlocked around here and at peak times you can’t enter the tube station due to over-crowding. In which case, I return via Mornington Crescent or Chalk Farm tube stations. Buses 24, 27, 29, 31, 134, 135, 168, 214, 253, 274, C2 also serve the vicinity. I don’t recommend driving as parking can be a nightmare. I do not recall any designated parking areas; it is only on the street and as such, come with heavy restrictions. As you come out of Camden Town tube turn right to head to the markets. This end of Camden High Street is not that interesting, just a few chain high street shops (Superdrug, Holland & Barratt) and some independents.The first place you will spot is the Electric Ballroom club. Although still a club and music venue in the evening at weekend they also have some stalls in here, mainly clothing, but some vinyl record stalls. A little bit further down is a tightly packed area with a hoarding above calling it ‘The Camden Market’. It is also known as Buck Street. Within this area are a number of stalls and if you are after a t-shirt with a witty slogan on it, this is the place to come. It is very narrow down here and as such I don’t tend to wander down this part very often. You need to be patient to get through the other shoppers and the closely packed stalls. Also, it is worth keeping an eye on your purse/wallet and phone. Apart from T-shirts and clothing which seem to be mass produced cheap crap, there are a few gems in here, but I can’t deal with the crampness of it. I have purchased a pair of ‘Dior’ sunglasses here once, as I recall. Opposite this section of the market is a little side street market (Inverness Street). Again I don’t tend to visit this section. Originally it was a locals market selling fruit and veg, household goods etc, but a few cheap clothing stalls (selling nothing that you can’t get elsewhere) have sprung up here now, cashing on the tourist footfall. Camden Lock Village is the name of the section that runs alongside the canal. There are lots of different shops and places to eat here. Food places are stalls, and dining is informal – on your feet or at the few places to sit. As you go in you can sit at narrow tables on the back of a vespa ‘scooter’ to eat. At one stall my friends and I purchased a mini cupcake for £1 (you can get regular ones for £2) and they had a staggering array of flavours in such a small space the size of a garden shed. Clothes are also available here, there were a lot of print summer dresses that we had seen elsewhere, but we noticed some pieces were not that cheap. My friend admired a cardigan style jacket, which she went off of when she realised it was £69. Most of this section is also open to the elements, but there are a few places that are undercover, but individual stalls are covered – looking like sheds or beach huts. Opposite this is Camden Lock market which is, to me, what Camden Market should be and a must-visit. The big building is a market hall and I have to admit that I have not been in it lately – it has a number of boutique and craft style stalls on several levels. The whole area here is more eclectic shopping wise. Outside of the hall has a varied array of stalls - The clothing tends to be original, rather than cheap, and they cater for a more specialist style such as gothic or punk. They also do a wide range of vintage clothing and accessories. Again there are lots of places to eat here – the stalls throughout offer a wide variety of cuisines and will let you taste something before you buy. Again you will need to eat on the hoof, or at one of the picnic tables outside. This is also a good market if you are looking for unusual gifts or home items (cushions, art, funky lamps and jewellery amongst the better end of London themed gifts). The Stables section is another must visit area. It is based around an old horse hospital and I understand it is a listed building. There are also lots of brass horse sculptures. The stalls are more within the buildings, and again you will find fashion and home items. You are also more likely to get unusual and handmade furniture here as well as bigger pieces or art of home accessories as the space for each outlet is larger and shops are more established. Cyberdog is one big shop in this area; identified by the massive inanimate robot outside. They have gift items on the small ground floor, and then go down the escalators to the alternative clothing section. There are adult ‘toys’ and accessories on the floor below. The music is very loud and club-like throughout. Probably not the best place to take your Gran. Parts of the Stables complex are undercover and another popular shop as you come out of the covered section is Black Rose for the steampunk/Goth/Emo lover in your life.Outside the designated market areas, the streets (Camden High Street and Chalk Farm Road) usually have a good mix of restaurants, bars and independent shops. I have found these shops good for shoes, especially fashion trainers, and there are also a range of high fashion girlie shoes that look like something Lady Gaga would wear. I usually eat in one of these places if the weather is too cold/damp to linger outside. There is a nice café on the opposite side on the bridge to Camden Lock Village, as well as a bar behind the village itself. On my most recent visit I ate in a Malaysian restaurant opposite the Stables section. I do recommend a visit here, I have only visited at weekends but I understand that the markets are open daily from 10am to 6pm.
by Essexgirl09 on January 2, 2013
Winter Wonderland has been in London’s Hyde Park over winter/Christmas for a few years now. I first visited a few years ago, but it was a spontaneous visit and no one was dressed appropriately so we went into a pub to warm ourselves up. This time I was more organised and after a few drinks in Regent Street we ambled across to Hyde Park. It is free to get in and runs from about the third week of November until 6th January – actual dates would vary each year – and is open 10am to 10pm. I have only ever gone in the evening, and the lights from the fairground make it look very festive and fun.WHAT TO DO? Even though admission is free, it is not a cheap trip out as there are lots of ways to spend money here. The first time I came here we all went on the big wheel. It is brightly lit and makes a fabulous photo against the night sky. You can get some good views across London from here though –it is 60m high. Currently it is £8 for an adult (£6/7 for children/concessions). The ‘flight’ lasts about 12-15 minutes and it is a slow circuit as they stop to allow people to get on/off and then you get a full trip round without interruptions. Each pod is closed from the elements and holds six people. Even though I was with someone who was scared of heights, they found the journey gentle and did not feel panicky. I do think this is worth doing if you can afford it. I recommend booking in advance to get the right time slot. Other activities include ice skating (£13.50 for an adult/£6 child/£12.50 concession). I didn’t do this as I considered it ridiculously expensive. I can’t skate anyway, so it is a lot of money to sit on some ice getting a cold, wet bum. Each session lasts an hour and you need to arrive in good time to sort out skates etc. I quite fancied the Ice Kingdom which appeared to be sculptures in ice, the price for that was the same for the wheel. It is extra cold in here and should take about 15 minutes to walk around. I had heard positive reports of it. Unfortunately there were no tickets when we went – it is strongly recommended that you book in advance to get the time slot you want – this can be done online. There are also a couple of circuses which were £10.50 adult/£7 per child/£9.50 concessions). Again these needed to be booked in advance as the shows only happen a few times a day. Each show is 45 mins, and there appears to be a family orientated one, and slightly more adventurous stunt show which may scare the smaller children. All prices quoted are peak time prices – there are only a few off-peak dates and the details are on the websiteFAIRGROUNDThey have a big fairground here and it is all very bright and noisy. You can take a zip-wire across the site, or go on roller-coasters or more sedate rides, as well as the stalls where your ‘skill’ at throwing of whatever will win you a cuddly penguin. Previously I went on one of the towers that drop you at speed from a great height. I forget how much it was but I remember screaming a lot. They seem to have more now as the whole site has become more popular. My friend and I fancied the Wild Maus XXL which seemed to be a waltzer/roller-coaster cross but it cost 6 tokens (1 token = £1) which we thought over-priced. The cheapest rides (for children) cost two tokens. Prices did vary but I wasn’t tempted any further. You also have a traditional merry-go-round with horses and a ‘star-flyer’ which is a 60m high roundabout where you fly out. That looked great fun, but I reckon it would be nippy up there. There is a Santa Land for the kids with kiddie orientated rides, and a little train ride around Santa Land. I believe Father Christmas hangs out here during the day time. SHOPPINGBy the main entrance to the park there are a number of stalls in their ‘Christmas Market’ area to tempt money from you. My friend brought a beautiful scarf for £8, which I thought was a reasonable price. Some are Christmas orientated, some sell fancy sweets, some gifts, clothing or accessories. Stuff is mainly original that you will not find on the high street and it is nice to browse.EATING & DRINKINGThere are plenty of places to eat and drink. There are some sit down places, such as a Bavarian beer hall and a carousel bar that rotates or you can buy from the stalls as you go round. We bought jacket potatoes each (from £3.50 depending on filling) and hot chocolate (from £2.50). Bars are licensed and there are plenty of places to buy mulled wine as well as a good range of food places from proper restaurants to fish & chips. If you do buy from the stalls there are not always places to sit so you need to think about logistics when trying to cut a jacket potato with a plastic fork…Various places around the site also had live music at certain times. OTHER STUFFWe used the official park public toilets. Naturally there was a queue for the Ladies’ loos. They will never be the nicest toilets you have ever used but there is an attendant here, so they are not as bad as expected – there is toilet paper, soap etc. We did spot some porta-loos near the rides area which didn’t seem to have a queue. The whole area is out in the open apart from a few attractions, so a wet day might not be as fun. A cold, dry day will add to the atmosphere. I would recommend going here by tube – Green Park, Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch are all about 5 minutes walk from the park. It is easy to walk around as the areas you will visit will be either paths or have mats down to prevent the park getting too muddy. Cards are accepted at some stalls, but best to bring cash and book ‘special’ attractions online. SUMMARYI really enjoyed my evening here, we had a lot of fun walking around and soaking up the atmosphere but overall it is an expensive treat. If you come as a family this could be very expensive. I would definitely come again next Christmas but would plan my visit a bit better, rather than winging it, to take advantage of some of the special attractions.
by Essexgirl09 on December 26, 2012
Strawberry Moons is a cocktail bar in Heddon Street, W1. This is a pedestrian only area just off the Southern end of Regent Street between Oxford Circus and Picadilly Circus tube stations. The destination had been chosen by a friend for a pre-Christmas early drink before heading off to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Happy Hour is between 5-7pm and this seemed a good time to meet.Heddon Street is a tranquil paradise compared to the madness that is Regent Street on the last Saturday before Christmas. At just gone 5pm the bar was fairly empty and we had no problem getting a table – I would guess this would be harder on a Friday with the post-work crowd. Cocktails are all half price – Yay!! There were a number of staff at the bar and we rarely had to wait to long to be served which is a blessing as cocktail based drinks are longer to prepare. The staff seemed to know their stuff, although one time I got a trainee and she had to be shown how to make the drink which took a bit longer. I don't have a problem with this – we all have to learn new jobs at some time, and rather now than when the bar was rammed. As well as cocktails they also sell Shooters, beers, wines and regular spirit/mixer drinks. I love cocktails so I was happy to make the most of Happy (2) Hour(s) and give a few a whirl. I have listed their full prices below, some also can be bought as jugs or deluxe versions with premium brands:Pom Pom (£8.30) - Smirnoff Blueberry with pomegranate, apple juice and elderflower. I liked this much more than I thought. The pomegranate was the stronger flavour and it didn't seem to be strong. Passion Margarita (£8.50) - Tequila shaken with Cointreau, with fresh lime and passion fruit. I really liked this, and it did have a bit of a kick I would definitely drink this again. Orchard Fizz (£8.30) - Smirnoff Green Apple, fresh limes and mint topped with ginger ale. This had a bit of a mojito twist to it and was an enjoyable and refreshing drink.Raspberry Beret (£8.30) - Absolut Raspberri with Schweppes ginger beer and puréed raspberries. My friend had this drink and I had a taste of it, it was a bit on the sweet side for me, but I recommend it for those who like a sweeter cocktail. Ginger ninja (£3.95) – This is a non-alcoholic cocktail one of my friends tried. It is made with pineapple juice, ginger beer and fresh lime. I think pineapple juice and ginger beer combined is all sorts of levels of wrongness and it didn't work for me, but he seemed to like it. We also had some nachos (£9) for the classic, veggie version which is ideal for two people to share, with lots of toppings including jalapenos. Food was prepared promptly and we didn't have to wait long, but the bar wasn't that busy. They also do bigger sharing platters (£16), plus light bites from £3.50 which included things like potato wedges, bruschetta, ribs and calamari. You can also get nuts or olives for £2.50.The bar is simple with clean, modern lines and quite large. It is also quite dark inside (flashlight app on your phone may come in handy to read the menu). There is a multi coloured flashing dancefloor towards the back, but plenty of space should the dance floor overflow. We didn't stay that late however. At it's peak (during the time we were there) all seats and tables were taken but the bar did not seem crowded as it is quite large and tables are spread out so you don't get the feeling of being cramped. I understand that it can get quite a bit busier later, and I saw some tables reserved for parties from 8pm. Toilets are downstairs. There is an attendant in the Ladies', offering the usual selection of perfumes and sherbet lollies for a gratuity. It was not busy enough to comment on how well they are maintained, I imagine she would have her work cut out later in the evening. I thought the extensive range of cocktails to be very appealing and hope to go back sometime soon. Cocktails aren't cheap, but we are in the heart of Central London. I do recommend taking advantage of happy hour if you can.
Whilst discussing what to do or New Year, some friends and I looked into joining one of the party boats down the Thames. For New Year's Eve it was £150 per head however, and we pretty much all decided that was too much and made alternative plans. However one eagle eyed chap spotted that we can go the Friday before Christmas (21st Dec) for £30 and we got booking our tickets.We all booked our own tickets online at http://www.londonpartyboats.co.uk/ and it was an easy process with a credit or debit card. My ticket was e-mailed to me and I printed it out and took it along for the night. Our boat, the M.V. London Belle holds up to 120 people and we were sailing from Westminster Pier at 7pm. The pier is situated right outside Westminster tube station (just follow the signs for Exit 1).As you board the staff check your tickets and will check larger bags (they do not want you taking your own drinks on board). They were all helpful and friendly as they escorted you on the boat. The boat has two levels and most of the chairs with tables are on the smaller, lower level. We boarded quite early and managed to get a table for 6 (there were 25 of us, but we rotated when we ate). After greetings, card exchanges and drinks bought the boat set off. There are two bars on board, one downstairs and a small one upstairs. A spirit and mixer was £4 and a wine £3.50. I was concerned that with a captive market they would have really expensive drinks prices, but this is quite reasonable – especially if you think how much some of the riverside bars would charge! A round of a small cider, a wine and two spirits and mixers came to about £14. The food was pre-prepared and distributed at one end of the lower deck. It is fairly cramped here and the queue took some time to go down. There seemed to be plenty of food so you won't go without if you are patient. As we were seated downstairs I got in the queue quite promptly For meat eaters there is chicken, plus quiche for the vegetarians, this is served with a jacket potato, salad, coleslaw and a bread roll. There are people serving the food in a production line on paper plates, then you can help yourself to butter and plastic cutlery. Michelin star dining this is not! I had low expectations of the food but it was certainly edible. I e-mailed them to check I was catered for as a vegetarian, which may be a good idea, but it didn't seem to be a problem. The eating area was cramped and we rotated seats so that those coming back with food could sit down. Others we seated right near the food area and people had to lean over them to reach the rolls and cutlery. They were quite annoyed about it as there is not enough seats for everyone and the catering team did well to serve 120 people in such a confined place. It is worth noting that taller people (my friend Tim is 6' 5") may not be able to stand upright downstairs. Once food was more or less done we moved to the upper deck where the DJ was. Earlier in the evening he had been playing some Hip Hop and I was concerned that the music would not get people dancing. However it soon went the other way and became a cheesy, Christmas dance-fest. I don't use the term 'cheesy' lightly. I am all for cheese at Christmas but I draw the line at Agadoo (I kid you not – they really did play this). The DJ apparently has an extensive play list and requests are encouraged. I only hope that Agadoo was a joke request, rather than part of his normal playlist! The top deck has bench seating all the way round and the windowsills have ledges on them to stop your drink from sliding off.Lavatories were out the back (outside) – down a flight of stairs from the upper deck. The floor was wet and although there were always soap, a working hand drier and toilet roll, they were very grubby. I used to have to balance my bag on the top of the hand-drier, and hover over the loo whilst holding my trousers off the wet floor. This is after having negotiated with the smokers to guard the door as the cubicle I ended up using didn't have a lock on it. It was fairly undignified and unpleasant. There are two ladies' cubicles and two gents'. No one seemed too worried about the gender on the door (hence the wet floor in the Ladies'). The boat set off from Westminster pier and cruised eastwards past the city, docklands and through the Thames Barrier before coming back. We got a good view of the sights along the river. The windows tended to get quite a bit of condensation and photos taken through the windows (and indeed in the boat) could sometimes be a bit blurry. This could be due to the motion of the boat, although I am willing to concede that the combination of 4" heels and vodka may have played their part. Better photos are available if you stand on the deck. I didn't suffer with any motion-sickness, but those that felt a bit queasy stayed outside or on the lower deck where movement was less obvious. The cruise lasted four hours and as a group we had a lot of fun for £30. Non Christmas party tickets are available on various dates in 2012 for £29, plus £1.50 booking fee. The company have a fleet of vessels, details of which are on their website. The boats can also be hired for private functions, where they can seat up to 60 people when tables and chairs are laid our fully. As I mentioned we all had a very fun night, but the situation may not be suitable for all:SUMMARYCramped – may have to queue for food or balance plates on your lap. Food acceptableNot enough seating for everyone.Not that easy to move about (not just if wearing 4" heels and drinking vodka) so not suitable for those that with limited mobility. Toilets are not the best.
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