Cool Stuff about London

London is a fun place and there’s always lots to see and do. It’s especially fun in summer when there are plenty of festivals and stuff going on and the weather is somewhat decent. These are some of my most favourite discoveries in London this summer….

London is full of classic sights and landmarks. Check out this marching band in full dress uniforms of red tunics and bearskins (hats). This was during the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

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Marching Band Near Buckingham Palace

Here is a picture of Tower Bridge on a grey and dreary day. The summer weather in London is pretty hit and miss! Londoners don’t get too many beautiful sunny days. On the rare days that are warm and sunny, they get a bit heat crazed and strip off to their underwear to catch some rays in the parks.

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Tower Bridge on a Grey Day

Modern glass dominated buildings sit side by side with centuries old dwellings. It gives London its character but it is a bit of a waste having such a thriving city hemmed in by old, drafty low-rise constructions. Surely there is a better way to modernize whilst keeping some old-fashioned charm to the city. Nevertheless, the Shard and City Hall are both modern, striking and distinctive additions to the London sky line (regardless of how grey the sky may be!)

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The Shard with HMS Belfast

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City Hall

One of the best things about travel is the food discoveries. London is an extremely diverse city and when you walk down the street you will hear numerous languages being spoken. Whilst at Camden Mela, I discovered this savoury Indian street food snack that punched me in the face with chilli-heat, tanginess, texture and Indian flavours. I love that first mouthful of a new food which is so unexpectedly delicious that it surprises you with a flavour explosion. I think it’s called Bhel Puri. It was made at a small stall and it was laced with tiny chopped up green chillies and it was so hot my scalp was sweating. I was eating these dried, sweet and sour boroi fruit to try to calm my burning mouth. I’d never heard of this fruit before. Boroi also known as the Indian jujube and grows in Bangladesh and India.

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Indian Street Food Snacks from Camden Mela

Later that week, I had another version of Bhel at the highly rated Dishoom restaurant. This version was much more posh, with the addition of pomegranate seeds which add a delightful pink colour and a “pop” sensation in your mouth. I’d recommend this restaurant but prepared to queue if you go during peak meal times.

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Bhel at Dishoom Restaurant, London

The thing that the English take for granted is how green and verdant their landscape is. For those who come from drier climates, the English gardens look simply idyllic and extremely fertile.

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Pretty Green Arch

It’s no secret how much I love to do things on the cheap and there are so many great options for this in London.

There are free museum tours in some of the famous museums in London. The one at the National Gallery was excellent and informative. Unfortunately, the tour at the Tate Modern did not give me any new appreciation for modern art. I still think it’s too bizarre and unfathomable. Check out this equation on the wall at the Tate Modern.

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Equation on the Wall at the Tate Modern

the whole world + the work = the whole world

hmm…for this equation to make sense then;

the work = 0

I don’t get it at all! The point of it all eludes me!

Even if you don’t like art, a wander inside these old buildings like the National Gallery is still very interesting. The best thing about London is that most of the world-class museums are free! You can just duck in when it’s raining or just pop by for an hour to get a bit of culture.

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Inside the National Gallery, London

Free (“tips-only”) walking tours are also a great way to learn about the city and wander into places you would not normally venture. We did a Brixton Twilight Food Tour with Free Tours on Foot.  This was an interesting evening wandering around Brixton which used to be a dangerous, poor and run-down area but is now becoming “cool”. Here a pop-up installation called “Pop Fields” has been set-up to get the community more active.

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Pop Fields in Brixton

Brixton even has its own currency dispensed from this single vending machine at a set exchange rate. This was a program created to support local business and the community. Local small business that accept the currency would get patronage by locals who would get a discount if they used this currency.

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Vending Machine for the Brixton Pound

As with most cities, it’s the stuff that you come across at random that thrill me the most. These little discoveries are what makes my journey personal. Around the back of our accommodation was this lovely green space. St George’s Gardens dates back to the 1700s and was used as burial grounds. Today it’s a quiet, green, peaceful sanctuary in the centre of the city.

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St George’s Garden, London

Another hidden gem location is Little Venice.  It’s off the beaten track, not overrun with tourists and is extremely picturesque.

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Little Venice, London

Even the department stores in London are an attraction in themselves. Here are a couple of photos from Harrods. Even if buying stuff at Harrods is not in your budget, walk around the higher floors and check out the indulgent stuff for sale and the building itself.

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Elevator in Harrods, London

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Egyptian Decor in Harrods, London

This is one of my favourite discoveries in London. This Merchant Square Footbridge that spans across Paddington Basin comes up in a staggered way like a Japanese fan to form a striking and distinctive landmark. This kinetic sculpture combines form with function. What a great concept for the area!

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Merchant Square Footbridge

Not everything about London is great. For example, when the weather gets above 25C, the fridges and freezers in every supermarket and corner shop seem to breakdown! Every one! We pop into Waitrose on a warm day for a cool drink and we are greeted by signs saying that due to the “extreme weather”, the fridges and freezers are not working. We went to Sainsburys, same story! It’s totally bizarre because every other country manages to have decent refrigeration at ambient conditions greater than 25C. Why is this an issue in London? Not to mention the waste! Just think of all the frozen goods and ice cream that spoils every time they lose their freezers.

Another issue with the summer temperatures in London is that it gets very warm inside the trains for London’s underground Tube system. Supposedly, the EU temperature limit for livestock to be transported is 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). In summer, on warm days, the temperature on the trains exceed this. Londoners love to tell people they are having to suffer through temperatures that cows, sheep and pigs are not allowed to be subjected to. It is quite horrible during peak hours when the sweaty commuters are sweltering and pressed up against each other. Especially for short people who inevitably end up in someone’s armpit.

Let’s end this post on a positive note. Sometimes, it’s the simple things which are the most effective. These guys are using the breeze and soapy water to making bubbles. It’s simple but it’s so magical and everyone loves it! Kids are running around popping them and even adults are smiling and reaching for them. It’s lovely!

Buskers Entertaining People by Making Bubbles on the Breeze

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River Thames from the Balcony of the National Theatre

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Elytra Filament Pavillion at the V&A Museum

Dry Season in Darwin

The dry season has arrived in Darwin and fun events are filling up the calendar! The Mindil Sunset Markets are held twice a week and we’ve had a few wonderful one-off events like the Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival and an Opera Gala with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra on the Darwin Waterfront. The wet season afternoon tropical downpours have stopped and the oppressive humidity has significantly reduced. What a relief! The early mornings are gently cool and the evenings are the perfect temperature for a stroll.

A few weeks ago, the Nightcliff Seabreeze Festival was held and it stretched along the striking Nightcliff coastline. It was stunning to see the colourful coastline and feel the ocean breeze as we perused the food stalls and watched local performers on multiple stages. It’s really heart-warming to see a lovely community events where you can see a diverse cross-section of the Darwin community enjoying themselves.  This cross-section includes the whole bunch of happy dogs in attendance too!

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Nightcliff Colourful Rocky Coastline

We made a yummy food discovery during this festival. It must be a Darwin creation! It’s the roti wrap. We had the beef rendang wrap. Tender, flavourful beef rendang, crunchy fresh carrot slivers, satay sauce all wrapped up in a giant roti paratha. It was filling, tasty and portable. Perfect festival food! (Sorry, too busy eating for a photo!)

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Tree with Exposed Roots

Check out this picture of a tree on the Nightcliff coastline. How often do you feel like that in life? Like the very roots anchoring you have become exposed and you may collapse into the crashing waves and rocks below. I have to return to this spot. I think the tree is probably still standing straight and tall because it’s roots actually go much deeper and it can withstand much more. (I hope so anyway, to make my life analogy more inspiring!)

Last night, we had a magical evening of opera under the moon and stars at the Darwin Waterfront and only for the cost of a gold coin donation. Some of the big names from Australia’s Opera community sang some operatic highlights whilst accompanied by the Darwin Symphony Orchestra. What a cultured event made totally accessible to the average person!  Nothing better than laying on a picnic blanket with a few delectable nibbles and being treated to a display of amazing musical talent. To put the cherry on top, there was a glorious fireworks display to finish off! What a great event!

Darwin Symphony Orchestra at the Darwin Waterfront

Darwin Symphony Orchestra at the Darwin Waterfront

People relaxing with their picnics ready to watch an Opera Gala.

People relaxing with their picnics ready to watch an Opera Gala.

Twice a week in the dry season, the Mindil Sunset Markets are open and the best thing about them in my opinion is the Sunset Oyster Bar. You can get a dozen natural oysters for only $20 and oysters with all kinds of delicious toppings for a tiny bit more. They’re such an indulgence and so good! I might go again tonight just for the oysters!

There are lots of other aspects of the Mindil Sunset markets which are lovely. The stalls are lined up under a whole bunch of big, green, shady trees. When you get your delicious food from the stall, you can cut through the dune and sit on the beach or you can lay your picnic rug down on the grassed area and consume your delicious finds whilst listening to some local performers. If you are looking for an unusual souvenir, this is the place! There are lots of interesting, unusual and unique things to buy. It’s pretty crowded but that’s sign of how good it is. Locals and tourists rub shoulders and enjoy the evening together in this relaxing location.

Cute little Dutch Pancakes on the BBQ

Cute little Dutch Pancakes on the BBQ

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Colourful Paintings at Mindil Markets

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Picnic at Mindil Markets under the Trees

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Peruse the stalls in the shade of green leafy trees.

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Beach Volleyball on Mindil Beach

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Jerky made from all kinds of exotic animals!

Blue Extraction Fan

This blue extraction fan sucks the smoke from the spit roasting meats below and direct it to the leafy tree canopy.

Croc Hot Dog

Crocodile Hot Dog anyone?

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You can even try out your new whip at the market!

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Didgeridoo display

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Interesting, colourful jewellery

 

Parap and Nightcliff Markets in Darwin

Markets galore! It’s the wet season in Darwin yet there are still a number of awesome markets to visit in Darwin. Yes, you will be drenched in sweat when you finish visiting them but hopefully you will also have a big smile on your face!

This weekend, I visited 3 markets. Parap Markets operate on Saturday morning while Nightcliff and Rapid Creek Markets run on a Sunday morning. My favourite markets for value and Asian fresh produce is definitely Rapid Creek Markets. Nightciff Markets has a lot of stalls selling homemade gifts and plants. A great choice when looking for an interesting one-of-a-kind gift. Parap markets has a good mix of fresh produce, cooked food and gifts. Plus it has the advantage of being the closest to the Darwin CBD.

This week’s market haul included some rambutans and mangoes, a sweet basil plant, freshly made paw paw salad (medium spicy!), a huge local pineapple, kangkung (river spinach), a range of glutinous rice Asian sweets, bananas and my unidentified vegetable of the week, a luffa! A luffa or loofah is a vegetable from the same family as the cucumber. When young, it can eaten as a vegetable and when the fruit is old, it becomes dried out and fibrous and can be used as a scrubbing sponge.

Here are some pictures from Parap and Nightcliff markets!

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Parap Markets – Fruit smoothie stall

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Parap markets – Stubby holder to keep your wine cool!

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Parap markets – range of Asian sweets.

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Parap markets – Coffee stall

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Parap Markets – Chicken Laksa

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Parap Markets – Cambodian rice balls, Asian sweets

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Nightcliff Markets – Plants for sale

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Nightcliff markets – Fresh produce for sale

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Nightcliff Markets – Stall selling souvenirs and salt!

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Nightcliff Markets – Fruit for sale

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Nightcliff markets – Fruit for smoothies

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Nightcliff market – Dresses for sale.