London Ice Sculpting Festival 2014

I had a huge list of events that I really wanted to get to on my stay in London, but because London is so huge and buzzing, I didn’t manage to get around to doing most of them! I am glad I got to go to this event though, it’s absolutely the kind of event you would not easily experience in South Africa, even in the middle of winter.

Faces through the ice.jpg

The London Ice Sculpting Festival was held on a particularly bright winters day in Wood Wharf. This posed a challenge for the sculptors participating because the glaring sun was melting their massive blocks of ice. The sun shining through the ice was beautiful though.

Tribal ice.jpg

There were a number of countries participating, and you could tell which countries were able to get a lot of experience in ice sculpting: Russia and Canada were significantly good, while Africa seemed to have a slightly different style. All the participants were incredibly skilled – the sculptures they worked on were certainly not easy or basic.

The tools they used were quite interesting too. Electric chainsaws (plugged in to a power source, even in the puddles forming below them), soldering irons, and even your normal domestic clothes iron (it seemed like a normal domestic iron – I could be wrong, but it would probably work just as well anyway). Sculptors were required to wear chainsaw-resistant trousers – those are seriously hardcore trousers!

Russian ice sculpting.jpg

Castles and stuff

USA vs. UK? My friend went to the USA over the December break and she absolutely loved it, particularly when she got a whirlwind experience of New York just before the Polar Vortex hit (it’s quite a contrast to our Sunny South Africa Decembers). When she met me in London just afterwards, she was surprised at how less urbanised London was. Yet London is such a progressive city too, how can there be such a difference?

She was expecting more of the Starbucks on every corner (or Costa’s in UK) and big chain stores like Primark and H&M to pop up wherever you decided you needed one, but we ended up having to Google these places and then walk for ages (well, more ages than you would in NYC by the sound of it at least) just to find the shop you are looking for. One of my favourite things about the UK, particularly London, is how accessible everything is. One of my other favourite things about the UK is that they offer you this accessibility alongside all their rich history and heritage.

Dramatically viewing the scene.jpg

After the family festivities of Christmas, Kenilworth Castle opened their gates for free public access, as a Boxing Day treat. It was rather chilly, but the sun was cheerily brightening up the crisp blue skies, as it attempted to heat up frozen children noses. This may sound cute, but not when a particular “children” is moaning about how cold they are and how they want to go home because they have no interest in the ruins of a castle that held many royals (including PRINCESSES, sweet child!).

Kenilworth Gardens .jpg

Thankfully, the organisers also hosted a duck race. We felt very foreign when we heard about this: isn’t animal racing like this considered to be animal cruelty? It turned out to be a really fun event involving thousands of numbered rubber ducks going downstream. You place a bet on a number, and if yours makes it to the end first, you win! It was all very novel, and definitely worth celebrating with some mulled wine.

Duck racing .jpg

Castles are definitely one of the things you absolutely HAVE to visit in the UK: each one has a pretty unique story, and to think that people actually lived in those freezing stone halls with no electricity, yet still managed proper grandeur – it’s a humbling experience (as in: how badly do we really need it?).

kenilworth characters .jpg

A bright idea – Revelations Grahamstown

It’s amazing what new management can do. In my first year at Grahamstown there was this random little coffee shop at the only shopping centre in town. Sometimes you’d hear of people going there, but mostly it felt like walking past some long-forgotten church, or the University library at the start of the New Year (when people have forgotten how much work they could actually be getting done in there). Now, Revelations Café is a go-to food-spot, especially if you like your cakes.

eat coffee tea signageThey had a great revamp and gained popularity again in 2012, with all sorts of wonderful specials to draw in the crowds. Not only were the prices reasonable and competitive, but also the quality of the food was really above the common Grahamstown standard.

Cake

Their cakes would be one of their major draw factors: they are made perfectly every time and they have a really nice wide variety. I was disappointed to learn that they don’t actually make these on site, however. The cakes are supplied by Chateaux Gateaux. Since learning this, it appears that a huge number of coffee shops have their cakes supplied by them too. So Revelations’ cakes aren’t all that special, though they are really delicious (and you can’t beat mass-produced consistency sometimes, can you?).

Breakfast specials are great on a student budget, but a real omelette is a nice and wholesome break away from res food

Breakfast specials are great on a student budget, but a real omelette is a nice and wholesome break away from res food

Their breakfasts are definitely winners. Sometimes they offer a breakfast special, though their breakfast menu options are worth spending the extra money on. They are generous with their portions, particularly in their omelettes.

Waffles are good for breakfast too... Revelations knows how to maximise on the Bar One too, which is great!

Waffles are good for breakfast too… Revelations knows how to maximise on the Bar One too, which is great!

Revelations offers lunch and dinner options as well. On a student budget a lot of the dinner choices are a bit excessive, though they are around the same price as you would expect to pay in other larger towns and cities, and the quality is good (think café burgers rather than steakhouse burgers though). Their wide range can cater for a number of dietary requirements (healthier options and vegetarian options, for example), but it does make decisions really hard.

Chicken and bacon wrap with a berry smoothie, a wholesome healthy lunch (that is also delicious)

Chicken and bacon wrap with a berry smoothie, a wholesome healthy lunch (that is also delicious)

Chicken , bacon, apple and blue cheese salad with a Mango smoothie. This was a half portion too, so they are really generous

Chicken , bacon, apple and blue cheese salad with a Mango smoothie. This was a half portion too, so they are really generous

You can enjoy their delicious smoothies out under the trees or you can cuddle up under cover on the couch with a decadent hot chocolate (complete with marshmallows, whipped cream and a flake), which makes it ideal for summer or winter treats.

Banana and almond smoothie and a vanilla milkshake. The smoothie was delicious, but it could have done well with a bigger straw because the nuts were not too finely chopped

Banana and almond smoothie and a vanilla milkshake. The smoothie was delicious, but it could have done well with a bigger straw because the nuts were not too finely chopped

Generally their service is very friendly, though relaxed enough that you remember you are not in a large town where waiters are there to pander immediately to your every whim.

They have a larger than average tea selection, and great options for teatime accompaniments

They have a larger than average tea selection, and great options for teatime accompaniments

This café is definitely worth a visit when in Grahamstown, and also good for regular treats with friends (just not on a Sunday, unfortunately).

Added bonus: they have free wifi.

Missing Christmas

Christmas candle

Christmas in the UK is quite a thing to behold. It is not necessarily about the religious aspect of it, but the tradition is still all there – the gorgeous Christmas lights, the Christmas puddings, the stockings by the fireplace. And the mulled wine, oh the mulled wine! In fact, the mulled everything!

I fell in love with mulled wine. It became a bit of an obsession. It is quite expensive to make from scratch, but you can also get little teabags of the spices to make it easy and more reasonable (or you can buy a bottle of read-made mulled wine). Mulled cider is also amazing: it is like an apple pie in a cup!

I fell in love with mulled wine. It became a bit of an obsession. It is quite expensive to make from scratch, but you can also get little teabags of the spices to make it easy and more reasonable (or you can buy a bottle of read-made mulled wine). Mulled cider is also amazing: it is like an apple pie in a cup!

Family time is always a good time: it gives you an opportunity to appreciate how lucky you are to have them. After all, family is forever, and it’s really hard to escape them. My gran is such a strong support and foundation in our family, and as tradition holds, she is a fabulous cook! I wish I had more of an opportunity to learn from her, but there’s only so many times you can be allowed to bake before your mother complains that there are too many cookies and cupcakes and brownies and the fridge and every other food storage space… Also, it’s far too cold in the UK to exercise enough to compensate for all that butter and sugar!

Christmas pudding. Also known as a ball of flour and brandy with a few raisins that can burn your throat out even before you have lit the alcohol! This was one strong pudding. So how did my family make up for that brandy richness? By smothering it in brandy butter and brandy cream. I would have liked it more if I had developed my taste for brandy beforehand. Luckily, we had normal cream as well, so my pudding was beautifully drowned because cream is the greatest thing ever!

Christmas pudding. Also known as a ball of flour and brandy with a few raisins that can burn your throat out even before you have lit the alcohol! This was one strong pudding. So how did my family make up for that brandy richness? By smothering it in brandy butter and brandy cream. I would have liked it more if I had developed my taste for brandy beforehand. Luckily, we had normal cream as well, so my pudding was beautifully drowned because cream is the greatest thing ever!

I really love recipes to be as simple as possible. Mostly this is because it’s easier to have all the ingredients on hand if there are fewer that you actually need, but also because often the extra ingredients don’t even change the flavour! Gran found these awesome (and illogical) cake tins online and decided that we absolutely HAD to make the Christmas pudding cake. No, not Christmas pudding or Christmas cake, it is a cake that looks like a Christmas pudding, kind of resembles the Christmas flavours, but different. The recipe was a pricey one, with lots of dark chocolate, dates, eggs, and brandy (which happened to be my grandfather’s mother’s!) and it turned out like a massive chocolate cake bomb/boulder. It was extremely heavy! It had a decent flavour, but it was far too large for such a rich cake. The greatest thing about it was the milk chocolate ganache between the two layers (note: the link to the recipe doesn’t give you the exact same recipe as the one we used).

Looks like a little someone got a hold of the fondant

Looks like a little someone got a hold of the fondant

The recipe called for brown fondant around the whole ball, but most of my family don’t like fondant, and buttercream frosting looks so much more delicious and appealing (because it is!), so we gave it a skip. Also because making brown fondant is a mission. I really don’t like fondants and marzipan though: they always look amazing, but taste dreadful!

Scarlett and the Goats - doesn't this sound like a fabulous name for a band? One that plays a banjo and uses walking sticks because they are 22 (ironically).

Scarlett and the Goats – doesn’t this sound like a fabulous name for a band? One that plays a banjo and uses walking sticks because they are 22 (ironically).

Christmas was a little over 2 months ago already! That means less than 10 months until more family and food time!

Cuppa 1800′s tea?

Mom insisted that we had to do something cultural. We simply HAD to. But what educational things can you do in London when you only have 3 hours to spare? You simply can’t do museums and galleries any justice in that minimal amount of time. So we hopped on a train and headed down to Greenwich, on what was possibly the wettest day of my UK stay.

Masts and rigging always look so spectacular!

Masts and rigging always look so spectacular!

It's quite high up there, but mom is steering us true!

It’s quite high up there, but mom is steering us true (sort of…)!

 

The wet weather didn’t deter, however, and we really felt empathy for the poor sailors who would have had to deal with so much worse when they were aboard and sailing the Cutty Sark itself, in her hay day.

My brother isn't even very tall yet. The conditions must have been seriously cramped!

My brother isn’t even very tall yet. The conditions must have been seriously cramped!

 

She’s a recently refurbished old-school boat (tea clipper). She burnt down in the refurbishing process, and has recently been completed and opened up to the public again. She has an extensive history, that covers things from the tea and wool trade, coal delivery, and even served to educate new sailors. I couldn’t quite gather what made her so significant (apart from all that she’s been through), but I think this is also due to the fact that I am severely lacking in ship and nautical appreciation. I will work on that shortcoming soon.

The hull of the ship sits in a rather large hallway with a coffee shop at the back. It's incredible to think that there is a whole great big ship right above you. Then you think of the weight of it and how much cargo it used to carry and you suddenly feel very small and fragile.

The hull of the ship sits in a rather large hallway with a coffee shop at the back. It’s incredible to think that there is a whole great big ship right above you. Then you think of the weight of it and how much cargo it used to carry and you suddenly feel very small and fragile.

Things that stuck out for me was that she seemed rather fast. The museum housed in the ship itself really do a good job of demonstrating what it was like to sail the ship using a number of multimedia platforms. It’s an interactive and fun experience; they even had a ship sailing simulator to give an indication of how fast she sailed from eastern Australia to London.

In memoriam

 

It is an interesting visit even if you know nothing about anything to do with the ship, though some kind of knowledge of it’s existence would have helped us. Most people would have some motivation to visit it, though I think I was a bit unprepared. It’s definitely something nice to do in Greenwich that is a little less conventional than just visiting the Meridian (which, granted, is worth a visit as well).

Ship in a bottle (and the most hipster camera around)

Ship in a bottle (and the most hipster camera around)

A renewed look at Street Art

This is my year of being adventurous, doing different things, exploring, and challenging myself. I am a big wuss, so this it is not too hard to find things to do. I also want to actually do things. There is so much out there, yet many of us stick so solidly to our routine, that we hardly experience anything new.

Take, for example, a trip to London: many people want to do the conventional sight-seeing – Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the London Eye, yet you end up walking away with all the same photographs and experiences as everyone else, and you probably didn’t even learn anything by doing it. Yes, I did that too, on my recent trip, but we also mixed it up a bit by doing something Alternative.

No, we didn't go breakdancing. But how amazing is Roa's bird, with each brush stroke (on a brick wall!) looking so feathered and textured?

No, we didn’t go breakdancing. But how amazing is Roa’s bird, with each brush stroke (on a brick wall!) looking so feathered and textured?

There are some fabulous websites these days that make some terrific recommendations for activities to do in your city. It’s a real shame they don’t have one for Johannesburg (hint hint…). One of the top rated activities for London on one of these sites was an Alternative London Tour. They take a different look at the East End, the area around Shoreditch, Spitalfields and Brick Lane, with a specific focus on the Street Art that is apparently so huge in that area. Ever heard of Banksy? Apparently this was the area where he made his name, and inspired the revolution of Street Art (this is what I gathered from the tour). We didn’t get to see any of his work: the way that street art is run, pieces don’t seem to stay up for more than a couple of months, sometimes even just a few days. The fleeting nature of the art makes the experience special because you don’t actually know if it will still be there when you next see that particular wall.

As intricate and aesthetic these are, their lives will most likely be short-lived

As intricate and aesthetic these are, their lives will most likely be short-lived

What I found really interesting was the fact that many of the pieces we saw are not done illegally: the artists are often asked or given permission to create their fantastic pieces on the buildings by the landlords themselves. This tour was great because you learn to notice what constitutes street art, and what is just graffiti. For some, it’s all graffiti. The difference is that graffiti is all rebellious and anarchist (mostly also done illegally), whereas Street Art really is about creating something significantly visually stimulating (not necessarily appealing… like most art). Most of the time, the pieces are making some kind of statement – ‘stop climate change’, for example – and there is a social aim in them. It makes you appreciate how it’s more than just a couple of unruly school kids, and you take the time to admire their work (and figure out what on earth their message is…).

This piece on the right was done by Nhils using explosives in plaster. Street art isn't just about a spray can

This piece on the right was done by Nhils using explosives in plaster. Street art isn’t just about a spray can

My walk to work each morning had some interesting art work that made for some truly thought-provoking self-discussion. Mostly, I liked the colours in the bottom one, and seeing the man in the top one work away in broad daylight really took the stigma of graffiti away

My walk to work each morning had some interesting art work that made for some truly thought-provoking self-discussion. Mostly, I liked the colours in the bottom one, and seeing the man in the top one work away in broad daylight really took the stigma of graffiti away

We had a really great tour guide, Ben Slow, who was charismatic, well-informed, very friendly, and particularly enthusiastic about both Street Art, and the gentrification in the area that is threatening the integrity, history, and culture that has developed into something very unique over the years. While he completely acknowledged the fact that some gentrification can be good (growing business and growing economy generally benefits everyone, right?), he also emphasised how this process doesn’t need to be at the expense of the area. Watch the video for his take on the matter, but also remember that he is not entirely against it. We all need to acknowledge the damaging role that commercialisation and corporations can play if they are not kept in check.

Ben Slow was passionate and well-informed, and clearly knows what he's talking about from first-hand experience. This is not just in the area of street art, but also in commercialisation and the effect it can have on communities

Ben Slow was passionate and well-informed, and clearly knows what he’s talking about from first-hand experience. This is not just in the area of street art, but also in commercialisation and the effect it can have on communities

Note: language.

What was great about Alternative London, was that they don’t only cater for Street Art or graffiti enthusiasts: they include proper history of the area, how it developed into what it is today, and they look at some of the social aspects as well. I learnt a lot about Street Art and I learnt that we all need to be more observant.

These are very different kinds of street art. Most people probably wouldn't even notice those little statues at the top of street poles. If there's one thing I learnt from my time in London, is to look up.

These are very different kinds of street art. Most people probably wouldn’t even notice those little statues at the top of street poles. If there’s one thing I learnt from my time in London, is to look up.

My only complaint, which is really somewhat negligible, is that online they say they try to keep the groups small, but when we arrived, there were over 50 people. They split this between two guides, though I initially felt it was still rather big, but in the end it didn’t make a difference. Just note that when they say ‘small’, it’s not as intimate as the sub-12 you may be expecting.

Do the funky chicken!

Do the funky chicken! Doesn’t that hip hop chicken in the corner just says a big ‘f you’ to the Corporation?

They offer summer bicycle tours, which sound like they would be a worthwhile experience. You pay by donation as well, which means that you can decide how much you think the tour was worth, or just pay according to your own means – everyone is able to get involved.

I can see why it has such a high ranking on tourism and activity sites. It is definitely worth it to do something different when in London.

You could say I’m some kind of hot fox…

… because I’m a serious browser! I love to shop, but when I say “shop” I don’t actually buy anything, so it’s definitely more of an aggressive and distracted browsing…

I came to London, knowing very well that I would be shopping quite a bit, but somehow forgetting that I had experienced a lot more of the Internet than the last time I was here, somehow. I have been in my absolute element, and I have pretty much only scoured Oxford Street in the West End. Below is a collection of some of the funniest and some of the most interesting things I have found so far.

"Dear Santa... I want it all." So true of my shopping explorations. So many wonderful things!

“Dear Santa… I want it all.” So true of my shopping explorations. So many wonderful things!

Clothes oxford

I nearly bought that dress for a Christmas party, but as you can see there was a little problem, and I didn’t have time to buy heels to make up for it. Why don’t they make short long dresses yet? The PJs would be appreciated by many students at Rhodes, and the panda skirt would be purchased in a heartbeat for a lovely friendle of mine who is mad about pandas. Pity that I come from South Africa, and the Rand is depressingly weak at the moment. Also: leggings absolutely everywhere! I still can’t decide if people should be allowed to wear leggings as pants (it depends if the way I wear them counts as wearing them as pants or not).

An array of drinking chalices

An array of drinking chalices

Some of these are appropriate for my four-year-old cousin, some of them she would absolutely love inappropriately. Either way, this is a really fun shop.

Some funky quotes to keep you inspired and motivated on your browsing way

Some funky quotes to keep you inspired and motivated on your browsing way

Quotes on posters, quotes on money tins, quotes to buy for your house, and quotes as graffiti. Everywhere you turn there is someone offering up their own piece of wisdom. I guess that’s just the world today, right?

Shoes. OMG shoes. So many weird and wonderful types... I have this problem that even if they are ugly, I want to try them all on! I also have a problem that I don't actually end up liking any of the nice ones either, so I find the purchasing of shoes to be rather problematic

Shoes. OMG shoes. So many weird and wonderful types… I have this problem that even if they are ugly, I want to try them all on! I also have a problem that I don’t actually end up liking any of the nice ones either, so I find the purchasing of shoes to be rather problematic.

It took me ages to find boots! It turns out there were quite a few unanticipated purchases that have been made since arriving…

The best part of the shopping experience: the food of course. So many treats available at every turn, it's no wonder that high up on my shopping list are a new pair of jeans (in my current size...).

The best part of the shopping experience: the food of course. So many treats available at every turn, it’s no wonder that high up on my shopping list are a new pair of jeans (in my current size…).

Not to worry about all these sweet things though, I am off to gym today (the first time since I’ve been here, how shameful!), which also means I’ll need new gym gear. I optimistically brought along some running clothes. Unfortunately, it really is cold here, and I don’t much fancy running in this unfamiliar area in the dark. So, gym for me! I will also get the added benefit of attending spinning classes which means I won’t completely die on the 110km cycle race that is the Argus in early March 2014.

I have many more hidden shopping districts to attend to shortly, but for now I have done one of the bigger and more important streets. I’ve got that out the way, now I can learn to be less of a tourist and find all the local spots to save some cash and still look as fabulous as everyone else here does.

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