Climbing the Narrow Steps of St Albans Clock Tower
With only a mere 93 steps to the top, St Albans Clock Tower certainly isn’t the tallest tower in Britain. That award goes to The Shard in London which has more than three times as many whole flights of stairs from top to bottom. At only £1 to get in though, it’s certainly much cheaper than The Shard and since it’s more than 600 years old, a great deal quainter.
Traversing the narrow staircase to the top was an experience in itself. Visitors seemingly are encouraged to yell up or down the staircase that they’re coming to avoid having to turn back. That’s because the staircase is so narrow, passing is impossible. At one point, Jade and I found ourselves temporarily trapped next to a large bell along with two parents and their three boys as we waited for the staircase to become available. Not a place for those with claustrophobic tendencies.
Once we’d reached the top, we were treated to lovely scenic views of the historic streets below and the surrounding rolling hills of Hertfordshire. If you find yourself in St Albans this summer, we’d certainly recommend a trip up the stone staircase to see it for yourself.
C’est surréaliste - The Tour de Cambridge
Monday saw Cambridge, UK host the start of the third stage of the Tour de France 2014. Yes, Cambridge in the United Kingdom. No, really! I was there and saw it with my owns eyes.
It’s not as strange as it sounds, with 11 countries other than France hosting stages of the tour over the course of its 101 editions. This doesn’t of course make seeing French police officers on motorbikes riding through the historic streets of England any less surreal.
The first two stages of this year’s tour were also in the UK, with the beautiful county of Yorkshire hosting "the grandest of Grand Departs". 2.5 million spectators lined the route over the course of two glorious days. Cycling in the UK has clearly never been so popular.
Not to be outdone, Cambridge put on a show of its own to see off nearly 200 riders (and a ludicrously high number of support vehicles) on their way to The Mall in central London. Many businesses lining the route had decorated their windows with bicycle wheels and yellow jerseys while the streets were adorned with celebratory bunting. Traditionally, the opening kilometer or so of a stage of the tour is ceremonial with the riders cycling very slowly, so the thousands who lined the streets of Cambridge were able to get a close look at their sporting heroes before they switched on their after burners.
The tour doesn’t visit the UK too often, but the success of this year’s grand depart should hopefully see a shorter gap between now and the tour’s next visit.
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Tasty Traditional Tacos at London Zoo Lates
If we were to be completely honest, the Tacos served to us by El Panzon at the London ‘Zoo Lates’ street food festival weren’t quite what we were expecting. We had in mind the hard clamshell corn tacos that you see in American TV shows, so when we were given four soft flour tacos, we were a little surprised. Had we taken the time to read the sign though, our surprise would have been replaced by actual knowledge that El Panzon serve proper, traditional tacos.
None of this matters of course. Our surprise was short-lived as we happily and messily feasted upon our plate of Mexican street food. The grilled chicken was tender and tasty and combined with the fresh vegetables, sour cream and cheese created a dish that was bursting with different textures and flavours. There’s really something quite special about Mexican food that keeps us coming back for more. I think it’s almost certainly the way that several different ingredients are combined which always leads to that wonderful feeling of contentment that only a full stomach and a satisfied palate can bring.
You can track El Panzon down to street food festival near you by following them on Twitter. As well as Tacos, they also serve Nachos and ‘massive’ Burritos. Can’t wait to try one of those!
Scoffing Scrumptious Paella at London Zoo Lates
One of the many pluses of visiting ‘Zoo Lates’ at ZSL London Zoo is the food festival. The organisers could have invited far fewer food vendors to attend and it would still have been impressive, but in reality, the number of stalls was surprisingly high with almost every type of cuisine catered for. Over the course of the next few posts, I’ll be highlighting a few of the stalls we patronised.
To start with, we gorged on a large and comforting bowl of Paella. The stall selling it had a large queue in front of it, always a good sign when it comes to street food. Jamon Jamon Paella offered two varieties on the night; the ‘Valenciana’ consisted of chicken, saffron, runner beans, butter beans and rosemary to name a few of the ingredients. We decided to try the other option, the more traditional ‘Seafood’ containing tiger prawns, squid, mussels, garlic, red pepper and peas.
The paella was full of layered flavour and texture. An initial peppery taste was then replaced by hints of garlic and an overall fishiness. The seafood was cooked to perfection - the prawns had bite while the mussels melted in the mouth. The rice had differing qualities depending on where it was in the pan. Some of it was soft while other parts were crunchy. We really enjoyed it, as proved by how quickly we hoovered it up.
Jamon Jamon Paella have a flagship stall at Portobello market, but they also appear at other events and markets. To track them down, head to their website or follow them on Twitter (@jamonjamon).
Which variety would you have gone for? The ‘Valenciana’ or the ‘Seafood’?
Zoo Lates at ZSL London Zoo
As I alluded to on the new, super-shiny Here To Geneva Facebook & Twitter feeds, last week we visited ZSL London Zoo to check out their 'Zoo Lates' event. Running every Friday night until the end of July (plus a bonus night in August), ‘Zoo Lates’ is a chance for adults to enjoy all the zoo has to offer without having to worry about or be distracted by children.
After having our bags checked by the most cheerful security team we’ve ever encountered, we headed in and immediately sought out one of the many bars that are dotted around the park. We were keen to enjoy the freedom of wandering around a zoo with a cool cider in hand while we could. Thirst suitably quenched, we wandered around from exhibit to exhibit, occasionally having to remove our animal-themed head wear so as not to upset the inhabitants.
The new multi-million pound 'Tiger Territory' was impressive and drew a great deal of attention. The crowd pressed their noses to the glass, held their smartphones in anticipation and craned their necks for a chance to glimpse and photograph one of the big cats. London Zoo has been around since 1828 so space is very much at a premium, but every effort is made and every penny raised is spent wisely to ensure the animals are as happy and comfortable as possible.
While viewing and learning about the animals is the most important part of ‘Zoo Lates’, there was plenty more to keep us entertained. There was a stand-up comedy den, a silent disco, an acoustic music stage and an amphitheatre housing a ‘cavalcade of musical comedy, dance and cabaret’. There was also a food festival where London finest street food hawkers had set up shop selling a very large variety of scrumptious food. There was so much going on in fact that it was a struggle to see everything. We took into consideration the early closing times of some exhibits (some as early as 8.30pm) and tried to plan our route through the zoo accordingly, but we were still surprised and disappointed to be denied entry a couple of times to some exhibits. While we fully appreciated that some animals went to bed earlier than the event’s finish time of 10pm, we still couldn’t help feeling a little bit rushed.
That said, we really enjoyed ourselves at ‘Zoo Lates’. The atmosphere was fun and laid back, the food was varied and delicious, the cider was refreshing and crisp and the animals were absolutely brilliant. We couldn’t recommend this unique event enough.
If you’re lucky, you might be able to find a special deal on tickets somewhere on the net. Otherwise tickets are available to buy on the ZSL website, where you can also find much more information.
Alban Street Festival, St Albans
Yesterday was a gloriously sunny and warm day in almost all of the UK. I’m sure the conditions were welcomed by the organisers of the Alban Street Festival in St Albans, Hertfordshire. The historic streets were thronged with people enjoying a wide variety of street food, live performances and activities for all ages.
This small, well connected and well-to-do town enjoys a reasonably decent number of tourists each year, thanks largely to its grand cathedral, old clock tower, quaint streets and pretty riverside walks.
Sensation Butterflies at Natural History Museum, London
Another day, another outing in the UK’s happy and glorious capital.
This time, we headed enthusiastically to the smart and sophisticated central London district of Kensington and to the world famous Natural History Museum. We didn’t head inside the museum itself though. Instead, we skipped over puddles down a path towards a marquee pitched alongside the grand Victorian main building. Inside, a special temporary exhibit called ‘Sensational Butterflies’.
While the main museum exhibits animals that are long past their living years, ‘Sensational Butterflies’ very much concentrates on living creatures, in particular over 50 species of butterflies and moths who are free to explore the warm, tropical, foliage-filled environment that has been created for them. Like in any museum, education is at the forefront of the experience. So while visitors gawp in wonder as colourful butterflies swoop and flutter around them, they can also learn about the fascinating life cycle that these beautiful creatures go through. Information boards explain the basics, while keen staff members are on hand to answer further questions from the extra curious.
If you do decide to see the exhibition for yourself, make sure you check out the hatchery, where lines of pupae are on show. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a butterfly or moth emerge from one. A magical experience!
The exhibit is open until 14 September 2014. You can find out more and buy tickets on the Natural History Museum website.
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Malaysia Kitchen Spring Market, London
Better late than never I suppose, though it’s still pretty embarrassing that it’s taken me over six weeks to post about this superb event in London.
Malaysia Kitchen has a history of laying on events that bring hungry foodies out in their droves and the Spring Fair they held last month was no exception. The concept was actually pretty simple - have London’s best Malaysian restaurants set up stalls along the south bank of the River Thames and fill the bellies of Malaysian food fans with delicious bowls of happiness. I can’t say for certain that this was the exact wording used in the planning meeting, but it’s certainly what happened.
I was having an off day hunger-wise. Normally, I scoff my fill at events such as these, but on the day of the Spring Fair, I simply didn’t have an appetite. All I managed was a portion of sumptuously unctuous Satay chicken skewers. I almost gave myself a hernia trying to yank the chicken off the skewers with my teeth, but once I had, it was a real treat. The glaze on the chicken had caught slightly on the grill giving it a sweet, charcoal taste. The sauce that was lavished upon the skewers was full of flavour, full of peanuts and full of spice. Absolutely delicious! You can’t really go wrong with Satay Chicken!
Keep a close eye on the Malaysia Kitchen website for more upcoming events. If you’ve not tried Malaysian food before, these events are a great way to introduce yourself to one of the world’s best cuisines.