During our recent time in the UK we were fortunate enough to have more than a fleeting visit to London, spending four nights in Hammersmith at my dear aunt and uncle’s. This has become a second home to me and Monkey, and I love having it as a base for our explorations.
While our visit was primarily about connecting with beloved friends and family from the UK—and most importantly, meeting my new nephew—Facebook worked its magic and it turned out that buddies from New Zealand and the US were also in town. Net, net, we enjoyed much revelry and managed to take in some brand new and age-old experiences.
1. Back to Holland Park
When we were in London at the end of last year, we had a lovely, frosty walk/jog around Holland Park on Christmas morning. With both my mum and I feeling antsy one morning we decided to walk over to the Park again, drinking in all the amazing Victorian homes along the way. I really love the use of color in British exteriors, especially for front doors. Matte, vs. gloss, seems to be the thing these days.
It was a real pleasure to see that the gardens had come fully to life after their winter dormancy: fragrant roses in bloom, lush vegetation in the Japanese garden and the trees beautifully green. All accompanied by the cacophony of the resident peacocks.
We also discovered that Opera Holland Park is in residence – a summer-long series under a semi-permanent tent attached to the main house. Worth remembering for next year.
Entrance to the Park is free.
2. The Design Museum, Holland Park
While wandering around the Park, I saw signs for the Design Museum, which piqued my curiosity as I hadn’t heard of it before. Turns out that the old Commonwealth building at the end of Kensington High Street was refurbished a few years ago and now houses temporary and free permanent exhibitions.
The top floor is dedicated to global design icons, think the London Tube map, the keyboard, the bicycle and much, much more. A California Designing Freedom exhibition is underway. It pays homage to the impact that my home state has had on our lives from the evolution of technology from companies like Apple, to digital design and social movements like #blacklivesmatter. The names of many people, product, and companies, I’ve worked with over the years are lauded. It was a bit strange to fly 5,000 miles to see my day-to-day life from a different angle, but pretty cool nevertheless.
Upstairs is a free Cartier exhibition which not only traced the jeweler’s impact on watch-making and precious stones, but also on the industrial design of early aircraft. It’s an interesting to think about the juxtaposition between innovation from 100+ years ago and today’s breakneck speed technology cycle.
Entrance to the permanent exhibition and the Cartier exhibits are free. All others charge an admission fee.
3. One Ham Yard & Soho Hotel Bar
I have never been much of an aficionado of London hotels, but I’m always happy to discover new places and there seems to be trend towards large, lounge-like hotel bars and restaurants. I met one of my best friends for drinks and a bite at Ham Yard Bar & Restaurant, a new-ish spot I hadn’t heard of before. On a warm London evening—in a pedestrian courtyard just off Piccadilly—surrounded above and below by twinkling lights, this was the place to reminisce and catch-up.
We opted for the set menu which was great value at 24 pounds for three courses, or 19.50 pounds for two, and included a glass of Prosecco. The grey mullet was absolutely delicious. And we made light work of the warm bread and butter, and the cheese plate.
Another night, I met a group of friends at the bar at the Soho Hotel. Another lively spot, coincidentally owned by the same hotel chain, tucked down a little alleyway in Soho.
4. Ham House
There is no geographical link between Ham Yard and Ham House (and I should figure out if there is some other connection), and they are separated not only by miles, but also centuries. Located on a gorgeous bend in the River Thames, near Richmond, Ham is a Tudor enclave that boasts numerous 400+ year-old buildings, a National Trust property in Ham House, polo fields, and a riding stables, which we took full advantage of. Frankly, I was in heaven.
The house itself was built in 1610 and has survived pretty well, considering. Of course, the kitchen is the area that holds the most fascination for me, not least because the huge, original kitchen table—thought to be crafted from an elm tree grown in the grounds—is still going strong. Apparently the kitchen maids used to sleep under the table, tasked with keeping the fires burning through the night.
We didn’t have as long as I would have liked to explore the house, but it has been kept in as close-to-original condition as possible, and was used as a residence up until 1948 when so many stately homes were turned over to the National Trust.
If you’ve watched Downton Abby you’ll know that ‘being in service’ wasn’t an attractive vocation post-war, and the upkeep and taxes was no longer viable for the families who had owned these properties, in many cases, for centuries.
Entrance to Ham House is around 12 GBP for adults and half that for children.
5. Ham Polo and Ham Riding Stables
If you’re anywhere near Ham during the summer check out the polo every Sunday, and if you like to ride, then I implore you to have a lesson with Minette Rice at Ham House Stables. She is practically a national treasure.
Minette is poised, elegant, full of decades of horse knowledge, insistent that riding should be fun, tireless, and clearly a mentor to generations. Monkey and I learned a huge amount in the 45 minutes we spent with her focused on improving our seat and balance.
Minette told Monkey he had a natural seat and could go far as a rider. I hope he listens to her. I, on the other hand, have a number of bad habits that I need to get rid of. #naturally
We had a semi-private lesson for two at 58 pounds each. (Not cheap, but worth it)
6. The Summer Exhibition At the Royal Academy of Art
I’ve always been a fan of the Royal Academy and its Summer Exhibition is often a fun way to see a boatload of art, ranging from the fairly amateur to the serious. Unlike most exhibitions at the RA, the works on display are for sale. You can pick up prints from a couple of hundred dollars, oil paintings from a couple of thousand and there are a few items with “price on request” – way out most of our price range.
Dodging heavy rainstorms, I had a fun time wandering around critiquing the exhibits with a dear ex-colleague, now turned artist—Debra Royston, check out her work here—and a friend from New Zealand.
It can be overwhelming with so much being displayed in one space, but I managed to find an affordable photographic piece I liked and hope it will show up in Petaluma one day in the not too distant future.
Tickets for the Summer Exhibition are around 14 GBP and can be bought online in advance.