Tag archive for "london"

The sweetest tour in London Town: London Cupcake Tours

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, Wine and Coffee

The sweetest tour in London Town: London Cupcake Tours

11 Comments 11 July 2013

Whenever I see a swirl of butter cream pink icing, a glistening beige cake beneath and some sort of delicious art on top staring back at me in a London window, I can’t say no.

Hi, my name is Bobbi and I’m a cupcake-aholic.

I am obsessed with the recent cupcake fad that has taken over this city. It’s hard to walk anywhere in London these days without being tempted by this itsy bitsy treat, but where should people go for one serious cupcake in the city?

London Cupcake Tours set out to answer just that with their self-guided tour packages. I spread my tour out over three days across two months and found some incredible places to eat cake in London Town.

The Package

I know what you’re thinking.

“Cupcake tour, what on earth is a cupcake tour?”

London Cupcake Tour

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I return home one day to find a hot pink package addressed to me. Wide smile on my face, I run up the stairs to my flat and immediately open it. The first thing I pull out is the London Cupcake Tour Guidebook, which lists six places in London to try cupcakes, maps on how to find each place and popular attractions and sights nearby. Also in the package is six vouchers for one cupcake at each of the bakeries in the guidebook, a reusable tote bag, a few cardboard boxes to fit two cupcakes each, a London Cupcake Tour cover for my Oyster Card and two buttons that say, “I’m on the London Cupcake Tour”.

The gift certificates are valid for three to 12 months, so there is no pressure to do the tour immediately or even rush it all into one day. So I took my time and spread the tour out over three months sharing each day with a friend.

On Tour

Day one, Ric and I visit The Cupcake Bakehouse in Covet Garden to share a Nutella cupcake. From there, we walk to Sweet Couture Cake Boutique and use our voucher for there on a friend that works nearby. It’s her birthday, so we surprise her with a vanilla cupcake with one candle in it. Don’t worry – we also sample some of Sweet Couture’s cakes ourselves. Their zesty lemon cupcake looks too delicious to resist.

London Cupcake Tour

Taking the first bite of my first cupcake on tour. Nutella – yummm. Photo by Richard John Hackey

Almost a month later and I’m having serious cupcake withdrawals, so Ric and I set out on day two of our cupcake tour. After wandering through Portobello Market in Notting Hill, we find a Buttercup Cake Shop location next to Gelato Mia. It’s different from the location listed in the guidebook and you’ll find a few places on the tour have more than one location. There we try a sticky toffee cupcake. Next, we head to Holborn to visit Bea’s of Bloomsbury and try my favorite: red velvet cupcake. This is also my favorite sit-down stop on tour. Bea’s has such a cute and cozy set up. It’s a great place to meet people for cake and a coffee and their icing is so creamy.

London Cupcake Tour

A cupcake tree at Bea’s of Bloomsbury. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The last day on tour I head on by myself, but make another birthday purchase. First stop is Lola’s Cupcakes in Mayfair where I choose a cupcake that looks like a tennis ball. This little shop is celebrating the Wimbledon finals in the sweetest way possible. I’m pleasantly surprised to taste jelly as I bite into the vanilla cake! Last stop is Ms. Cupcake in Brixton, which is my favorite shopping experience. The bakery has a retro feel to it and the cupcakes are vegan, so everyone can enjoy. I take a Ferrero Rocher cupcake to go and share it with a friend later in the day for his birthday.

London Cupcake Tour

A tennis ball cupcake at Lola’s Cupcakes the day before Andy Murray wins Wimbledon. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon


A London Cupcake Tours single pack costs £34.50 and can be purchased online. I thought this price was a bit high considering each cupcake would have cost £2-4 if purchased on its own. Honestly though, after looking at a few other food tours in London, that’s actually quite affordable. Walk.Eat.Talk.Eat’s tours range between £50-65. Remember, you’re not just purchasing cupcakes, you’re being guided through different areas in the city while visiting some of its best cake shops.

Final Thoughts

I thought this was the most adorable tour idea I had heard about in London. Cupcakes are very popular at the moment and bakeries just keep popping up in this city. London Cupcake Tour is a great way to experience that side of the city, while also touring it . My major problem with guided food tours is that they pack so much into just a few hours, which can be sickening after a while. That’s why I liked the set up of this food tour, because I could spread it out as much as I wanted. I didn’t have to eat six cupcakes in one day, which would have probably made me hate cupcakes.

London Cupcake Tour

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Overall, London Cupcake Tours was a nice addition to London life for me that allowed me to see bits of the city I wouldn’t have, like Brixton. All the bakeries were high quality and had something very special about them. I would recommend this to tourists with a sweet tooth and even locals that want to sample this exciting trend in London.

Thanks to London Cupcake Tours for letting me try out their tour. As always, all opinions are my own.

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12 Photos for my One Year Instagram Anniversary

Other, Photography

12 Photos for my One Year Instagram Anniversary

6 Comments 05 July 2013

I was really late on the whole Instgram thing. I haven’t had a smart phone since 2009 and I still don’t, but in June of 2012 I treated myself to an iPod Touch and one of the very first things I did upon purchasing it was download Instagram.

I love everything about the app.

I love the filters. I like taking photos of all my food. I like seeing what everyone else is doing around the world. I love receiving likes from strangers. Plus, I like that it encourages me to take more photos. I’ll post pretty much anything and everything, but I do have one rule to my Instagram account that I take very seriously. I only post photos taken with my iPod. No SLR or point and shoot photos. That be cheating!

It’s hard to believe I celebrated my one year anniversary recently. In that year I’ve taken over 600 photos in New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, USA, Canada and England. #landscapes #selfies #foodporn #fishporn #doglove – You name it, I’ve shot it. So I thought it be fun to have a look back at my 12 favorite photos in my first year of Instagramming.

Italian Renaissance Gardens Hamilton New Zealand

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

12. Italian Renaissance Garden – Hamilton Gardens, New Zealand

This was my first hardcore Instagram day and I think I probably lost all my followers during it, because all I did was take photos of gardens and flowers. Hamilton Gardens is a stunning spot to wander around on a nice day. They have gardens from all over the world. I spent an afternoon there in June 2012 waiting for my visa extension approval.

Mount Maunganui New Zealand

11. The Mount from the top of it. – Mount Maunganui, New Zealand

Ric and I lived in Mount Maunganui for about seven months. In the off-season, climbing the Mount is one of the only things to do there. So we spent a lot of time up there. It’s a beautiful sight of the seaside town.

Hobbiton New Zealand

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

10. Bilbo Baggin’s house – Hobbiton, New Zealand

This was definitely my favorite tour in New Zealand. It’s the actual film location for the Shire in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Once a sheep farm, this Hollywood set is open to the public and located in Matamata.

Yantarasri Chiang Mai Thailand

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

9. Terry-cloth robes make me feel like I’ve made it in life. – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Ric and I don’t stay at high-end accommodation often, so I had to get a shot of me on our balcony, looking out to our pool when we stayed at Yantarasri in Chiang Mai. I really wish I had a terry-cloth robe right now :/

Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai Thailand

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

8. Had the most amazing day with the elephants. Don’t want to leave. – Chiang Mai, Thailand

I’ve written before about my visit to Elephant Nature Park. I really didn’t want to leave this place. It was so peaceful and open. I tried so hard to get a shot like this with my SLR, but for some reason couldn’t do it.

Railay West Sunset Thailand

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

7. Can’t imagine it gets much better than this. Railay, Thailand

This one did not require a filter. After two stints in Thailand that came to about three months altogether, I finally found my perfect Thai beach: Railay. This shot was taken at Railay West Beach, which isn’t the most beautiful at day (that be Pranang Cave Beach), but definitely takes the price at night. There is a bar there that lays out mats on the beach and delivers your drinks to you at sunset. My dad, Ric and I sat there for hours every night we were there.

Changi Golf Course Singapore

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

6. Flying over Changi Golf Club in Singapore.

Ric said his dad told him to look out for this golf course when he flew out to Australia years ago, but he said he didn’t see it. So when we flew from KL to Singapore this past Autumn, I was on the lookout for it. Looks pretty cool from up in the air.

Graffiti Brooklyn NYC

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

5. Graffiti by our Brooklyn pad – Brooklyn, NYC

This was my first visit to Brooklyn and I couldn’t get enough of the street art, like this little gem.

Falling Water Frank Lloyd Wright

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

4. Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright – Pennsylvania

I’ve been wanting to visit FLW’s Falling Water for years. It’s about a five-hour drive from where I grew up, but for some reason I just never made it up there. When I came home to meet my dad’s new girlfriend for the first time, I found out we shared a love for all thing FLW, so I took it as a sign that we had to go. Double-date weekend to Western PA and I got this iconic shot of the house.

Liverpool dock

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

3. Reflections at the dock in Liverpool. – UK

Ric and I mainly went to England to visit his family for Christmas, but he wanted to also show me around the north a bit. Though we had both been to Liverpool before (actually on the same day in 2007), we wanted to visit the city again for a day of touring. We spent most of the day at Anfield, then headed to the waterfront. I absolutely adore this photo. Liverpool is such a beautiful city – and it doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves.

Drummer Joshua Tree National Park

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

2. The things you’ll come across in the desert. – Joshua Tree National Park, California

My Jucy Tour of the USA came about very last minute and randomly, but was absolutely incredible. Of all the places I visited during my three week tour of Western USA, Joshua Tree was the one I was looking forward to the most. I have a thing for deserts and heard it was a really funky place. I expected to see some weird things there and I did – like this drummer playing by the side of the road.


Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

1. Striped block in London.- UK

I spent the first half of 2013 in London, which was another random and surprising happening in my year with Instagram. I adore this city and could probably have picked 12 photos to represent this anniversary just from London, but I chose this one to represent my five months here. London has a million and one attractions, but I like to walk around the city and take it in. This was a random street block, somewhere in the city that appealed to me.

So that was my year first year in Instagram. What do you think? If you want to follow a long in real time, follow my photos on Instagram and leave your user name below so I can follow you.

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Preparing for an era party on a budget: Blitz

Blog, Destinations, England, What I'm thinking

Preparing for an era party on a budget: Blitz

1 Comment 07 June 2013

I’ve never been to a city that does throw back parties as well as London. Maybe it’s because the city has such a long and rich history, maybe they just know how to party, but I love it.

A “fancy dress” requirement is regular at private parties here and the themes are always so interesting, tarts and vickers anyone? Plus, dress up parties aren’t just for private gatherings, there a common affair at locations all over the city.

Last month I visited the Belle Epoque Party in Shoreditch, dedicated to late 19th century Paris, and I really don’t think I was completely prepared for it. I didn’t realize how much people dress up for themed parties here and honestly couldn’t afford to do it myself. It’s something quite special for 20-somethings to still embrace dress-up as much as they did at four and this time I intend to play the part.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading to the Blitz Party, a 1940s-themed party in a bunker just in time for D-Day. Times obviously were not great in the world back then, but style was, and I have a pretty good idea of how to dress for this party, without breaking the bank.

1940s girls

Photo: Young Red Violets


First thing’s first, when it comes to dressing up for a 1940s party: it’s all about the hair. For this era, you could get away with doing just your hair to fit the part and keeping everything else pretty simple. Victory curls are the most well-known 1940s look, so that’s what I am going to go for. There are some well-known vintage hair stylists in London, like La Belle Jolie in Crystal Palace, but I’m going to give this a go on my own, so I can splurge on a dress. All you really need to do is Youtube 1940s hair to find a few looks to choose from then and learn how to do it yourself.

Make up

Luckily, this step is fairly easy for my party’s era. Dark eyebrows, simple eye makeup, red lips and maybe a flick at the end of your eyelids with wet liner. Plus at the last era party I attended they had vintage make up artists, The Beauty Queens, on site giving complimentary makeovers. So I’m going to leave myself a bit blank in hopes of that. If all else fails, think WWDD (What would Dita do?).

1940s make up

Photo: Chlo-beau make-up


One complaint people might have about visiting an era-themed party is that they have nothing to wear.

This is my problem as well.

No, I don’t just carry a 1940s vintage dress with me around the world, but I would like to. I’ve chosen to invest in this, because I know I’ll wear it again. It’s very trendy right now and I love the look anyway. Luckily, there is no shortage of vintage stores in London. I’m going to head to Carnaby Street and Portobello Market today as well as hit some second-hat shops along the way. I’m looking to spend no more than £60 on my dress and I’m not too fussed whether or not it’s actually vintage, but they are a good place to go for inspiration. Time Out has a great listing of vintage stores in London. 


Other than creating a dance to “Zoot Suit Riot” by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies in my friend’s basement when Swing was a fad in the 90s, I have no idea how to dance for the 1940s and just realized the meaning of that bands name… I don’t think it really matters that much, but it would be cool to show up with some moves. Returning to Youtube, practice these dance techniques while getting ready for the night.

By tomorrow you should be look mighty spiffy! Looking forward to seeing how my look is actually going to turn out and of course going to the Blitz Party tomorrow night. Are you going? What did you do to complete your look?

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Creating their own genre of entertainment: Wam Bam Club

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, The Arts and Cabaret

Creating their own genre of entertainment: Wam Bam Club

6 Comments 06 June 2013

A seven-man jazz band playing swing music at the entrance, a complimentary glass of champagne after receiving my ticket and two big-chested men smiling and offering me a Lindt chocolate in red wrapping, I knew I was in store for a different sort of cabaret as soon as I arrived at the Bloomsbury Ballroom last Friday.

At the Wam Bam Club, you don’t just watch a show, you’re a part of it.

The set up of the show, entertaining guests and interacting with them from the start, invites you to join in. The seating arrangement in the ballroom and the way the show is carried out actually gives you the chance to.

With an art deco interior design, the Bloomsbury Ballroom has one main stage at the front and the Wam Bam Club adds another to the middle. Small tables and chairs border the room. You’ll have to get cozy with your neighbor and the performers, as it’s a packed house, but you’ll want to as one of them is the bubbly and hilarious Lady Alex.

“These are my cabaret bitches,” she screams as an even number of male and female sex pots, known as the Wam Bam Buff Boys and Wam Bam Belles, run down the middle of the ballroom and surround her on stage.

Wam Bam at Bloomsbury Ballroom from Lady Alex on Vimeo.

The show just felt laid back and inclusive of all interests from the start, but I didn’t really think about why, just went with it. At intermission I talked to someone at my table about the show and she mentioned how she noticed it was a lot different from most burlesque and cabaret, because it wasn’t just women taking off their clothes, but also yummy men.

Mysterious and cutesy burlesque acts by female bombshells are matched with a sailor-themed double striptease to “In the Navy” by two buff men, which ends in nothing but skin and soap I must add.

Further, Lady Alex, the MC and show creator, is a woman, which is another major difference to most cabarets. (Note, there are several other amazing women that make up the burlesque and cabaret scene in London, whether it be in their performance or creativity. In fact, I’d say there are more women in the industry than man. I only notice by this statement that I’ve not seen any female MC’s in London or in performances around the world. It was something different at Wam Bam Club in my experience.)

It doesn’t seem like the Wam Bam Club is trying to make a stand. They’re just having fun the best way they know how. That’s the biggest impression this show leaves. Laugh, leave your worries behind and never take yourself to seriously.

This is clear by how many comedy acts are offered in the two-hour show. It starts with the fabulous Bunny Galore. In a blond wig and red dress, the drag act sings, “When you’re good to momma,” and the entire audience replies, “Mama’s good to you.”

Then there’s Ninia Benjamin. Dressed in Primark clothes, not one sequin, you wonder what she has to do with cabaret as she comes to the stage. The loud-mouthed comedian lets it all out and will have you laughing so hard her non-burlesque wardrobe won’t matter by the end of her routine.

“I’m a dirty fucking bitch,” she warns everyone within minutes of hitting the stage. That’s apparent with her sex lessons that include Kit Kat references.

But the definite highlight for me came with the show’s headlining act, Up and Over It. The duo may have cleaned their act up for America’s Got Talent, but they held nothing back for the Wam Bam Club.

“This is what happens when Irish dancing goes a little bit tits up,” Lady Alex says before introducing them.

Their performance starts with just one woman and one man sat at a table with two open bottles of booze. Black eyes on both of them, ripped-up clothes and wild hair, they look as though they’ve been on a three-day bender.

The male part pours an obvious white powder across the table and snorts it, only to be outdone by his female counterpart. This “Anything you can do I can do better” persona continues as they go back and fourth with an incredible tap dance routine, first done only by hand but then taken to their feet.

Smoke surrounds them from the powder on the table as they stare furiously at each other and wait for the other to mess up during the strenuous routine. Neither does. In fact, their flawless. They take a few swigs from their bottles, carrying on with one hand, without even flinching.

The show ends with a Marie Antoinette-like extravaganza. Lady Alex is at the center of it, wearing a boat around her waist that shoots confetti. She’s surrounded by the Wam Bam Buff Boys and Wam Bam Belles.

It’s grand, fabulous, hilarious, beautiful, flawless and colorful. It’s not just cabaret or comedy or dance or burlesque, it’s a genre unto itself. It’s Wam Bam Club.

The show doesn’t end when the performers leave the stage either. The Top Shelf, the seven-man swing band mentioned at the start, take to the stage along with DJ Earl of Ealing and the floor opens up to the crowd for the show’s after party. 

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

General admission costs £25 and includes a free glass of wine and seating at shared tables. For £35 you’ll receive a complimentary glass of wine again and find seating at private tables closer to the stage. Plus, they provide seating for groups in the sofa area. You can also pay £10 to enter only for the after party. Their next show at the Bloomsbury Ballroom is Friday, June 28, but they also perform every Saturday at Cafe de Paris. All tickets can be purchased on their website.

Wam Bam Club offered me press admission to review this show. All opinions are my own.

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A day in London if money wasn’t an option

Destinations, England

A day in London if money wasn’t an option

2 Comments 30 May 2013

When Expedia asked me to write about what I would do in London if money wasn’t an option, I have to say I jumped at the chance. Traveling the world for three years straight comes at a price, so I’ve always kept my budget very low, opting for hostels and shabby huts instead of suits and villas.

I wouldn’t have the past three years any other way, but I’d be lying if I told you my mind didn’t wonder when we pulled up to lush resorts on tours or visited posh restaurants, only for drinks.

How would it feel to travel luxuriously? Where would I go? What would I do?

There’s no better city to answer that question than London. Home to royalty and the world’s most expensive residential building, people in England’s capital city know how to spend it and for one day in my imagination, I do too.

Wake up in comfort

I wake up so engulfed in pillows, I can’t even see Ric. Pastel, floral drapery covers the windows and a tea pot sits next to my bed stand. I feel like I’m staying at a manor in the country side, but jump out of bed and rip open the curtains to remind myself I’m not.

Looking down at the River Thames and the Eye, I see the city I’m set to conquer today, London.

Ric opens his eyes and screams, “Ahhh, this is so nice.”

He takes over all the pillows in the bed and I get ready for the day.

After a long bath in our one bed river view suit, I snuggle into a complimentary robe and slippers and jump back into bed.

“Wake up Ric,” I say.

“I can’t get out of bed,” he replies.

“You have to,” I say. “I want to see London.”

After a half and hour of opening his eyelids and dancing around the room, too giddy to sit still, we’re both finally up and dressed, ready for the day.

Walking through the checkered lobby, I think of all those before me who have done the same. Churchill. Sinatra. Monet. When it comes to hotels, I’m a sucker for the old, prestigious pads. That’s why I chose The Savoy.

The Savoy London

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Tea, Dinner and a show

We stop by concierge at The Savoy and ask them to schedule us in for tea at the The Dorchester at 2 p.m. and dinner at The Ivy at about 10 p.m.

“But I hate tea,” Ric says.

“You can’t visit London and not go for tea,” I reply.

Steven, whose helping us out a concierge, smiles and laughs at us.

“I can plan that out for you,” he says.

“Do you think you would be able to find us tickets to The Book of Mormon,” Ric asks him.

“Oooh,” he says. “I will try.”

Tickets to this show by the creators of South Park are the hardest to come by at the moment.

“In case, I can’t find them, any other requests for the theater tonight,” he asks.

“We’ll leave that up to you Steve,” Ric replies.

We exchange smiles and salutations and Ric and I exit The Savoy and walk a few minutes for breakfast at Simpsons in the Strand.

Rolls Royce London

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Breakfast and London’s best view

Two full English, four glasses of bucks fizz and two cups of coffee later and we’re out the door. Ric spots our ride first. We hired a chauffeur for our visit to take us around in a black Rolls Royce. We met him when he picked us up for Heathrow yesterday.

“Morning Jim,” we say.

“Morning guys,” he says. “Where to?”

We look at each other and reply in unison, “The Shard.”

“And don’t spare the horses,” Ric adds, laughing to himself.

We’re both suckers for good views and there is no better one than London’s highest sky scraper. Building on The Shard completed in 2012 and its 69th and 72nd floors are now open to the public. From the top of The Shard, we look for our room at the hotel and point out Big Ben, Tower Bridge and other popular spots in the city.

“I really hope Steve can get tickets to the show,” Ric says in the lift down.

“I wonder what I should wear,” I reply. “Can we go shopping?”

Ric looks at me hesitantly then smiles and nods yes.

The Shard

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Higher than high street

We meet Jim outside the building and tell him to go to Savile Row. There isn’t enough time for a bespoke suit for Ric, specially tailored suits that the street is known for. Luckily Gieves & Hawkes has a few suits in store that fit Ric and look great. He chooses a bright navy single-breasted suit with a skinny black tie. They keep it to tailor some specifications and promise to send it to our hotel by 5 p.m.

Next stop is Harrods. Ric stays behind me nodding, no and yes to things I pull off the racks. After choosing 10 dresses, I head to the fitting room and Ric sits down on one of the chairs just outside.

Ric gives me sort of yes looks for every dress until the seventh one. His eyes light up.

“Bob,” he says. “That’s the one.”

It’s a black lace number by Burberry. Unlike usual, I actually agree with him on this one. They wrap it up and we’re back in the car en route to The Dorchester for tea. We opted for the Vintage Afternoon Tea on the Balcony. Ric lets me eat all the smoked salmon and I let him have all the coronation chicken, because we both know that’s each other’s favorite. I drink all the tea, and he the champagne. Since we have minor food comas, we ask a woman at the front desk if the spa can fit us both in for massages. Luckily, she says they can.

We leave The Dorchester two and a half hours later, feeling like putty. Slightly buzzed and completely relaxed.

Savile Row

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Preparations for the night

Jim drops me off at La Belle Jolie in Crystal Palace for my vintage hair and makeup appointment. Ric heads back to the hotel for a nap. I return to the hotel just after 6 p.m. Ric is in front of the bathroom mirror shaving. His suit is hung up in an open armoire.

“Ric,” I say. “What do you think?”

“Wow,” he says. “I have such a pretty girlfriend.”

I smile and kiss him.

I call room service and order a two Bloody Mary’s.

“So what happened with the tickets,” I say as I slip into my new dress.

Ric steps out of the bathroom and says, “He got ’em.”

“Yes,” I yell.

We look out the window, him in his suit, me in my dress, drinks in hand and cheers to a great day. The show is incredible. Dinner is even better. We bump into Gordon Ramsay and Ricky Gervais, just like in Extras and finally return to the room just after midnight. We jump into bed and exhale.

What a day?

That’s how I would spend a day in London if money wasn’t an option, how would you?

All the places chosen for this post were picked by me, but it is brought to you by Expedia.

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Getting to know the London coffee culture at dedicated festival

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, Wine and Coffee

Getting to know the London coffee culture at dedicated festival

6 Comments 02 May 2013

There’s a culture behind absolutely everything in life.

It serves the people who are involved in the industry or those who just like a particular hobby or subject. Though some things in life have a much bigger culture than others, like coffee.

These days, coffee is way more than just a perk-up drink. Some may say it always was, but it’s definitely become more popular and attracted more followers worldwide in the last 15 years than ever. In fact, I’d dare to say that the coffee and cafe culture that exists today might be even bigger than that off wine.

I love that everything has a culture and a following. One of my favorite activities is seeing where events lead me and ending up at some random place with people who are completely dedicated to something.

Following the trails of events dedicated to a particular subject has allowed me to be taught by one of the world’s most popular belly dancers, it’s led me to abandoned warehouses in North Philadelphia with epic parties and this weekend it brought me to The London Coffee Festival.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Because of my love for getting involved in different cultures and the fact that my dad is a metal salesman and almost every industry needs that, I’ve been to a lot of trade shows, which is basically what London Coffee Festival is, but better because it involves food, drink and is set in a very trendy Shoreditch warehouse.

Basically, it was my Woodstock.

I think I drank a total of six cups of coffee during my six-hour visit. I swear they were only little. I was so wired by the time I reached the last barista, I’m surprised he didn’t turn me away.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I learned a million new ways to make a cuppa and saw just as many devices used to do so. Am I the only person who didn’t know what an Aeropress was? I saw beans being roasted, pouring techniques, coffee art and learned about coffee harvesting around the world. Plus, like any trade show, visitors received loads of free samples and tastings.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It started as soon as I entered Old Truman Brewery and was handed a bag filled with the 2012 edition of The London Coffee Guide, mints, chips and more. During the event I got to try ice cream, cheeses, chai and chocolate. Google Local London gave me a free bag Union hand-roasted coffee beans for filling out reviews of London cafes on Google+.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It’s the first time I’ve ever been to a barista competition, which are quite intense. It’s kind of funny to watch people make coffee in front of an audience and judges while dance music plays in the background for people, like me, who have never seen it before.

It is an art though and great to see the best in action.

The UK Aeropress Championship took place at the London Coffee Festival. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Further, there were some very innovative ideas and products on display that visitors of the event are often the first to see and can purchase usually at a discount. A few things amazed me.

The first was the Grower’s Cup Coffeebrewer, which is basically a French press in a bag. This appealed to me especially as a traveler, because your guaranteed to have good coffee on you and the tools to make it, no matter where you go.  I had visions of road trips when I saw it.

I sampled coffee from the Grower’s Cup Coffeebrewer upon arrival. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I also liked BlankBox’s coffee subscription program. Basically, people subscribe to BlankBox as they would a magazine and for £10 a month receive a box with two bags of coffee beans from a variety of roasters to try. What’s interesting is that the bags are unmarked and only have a small red or blue colored box on each. You try the blend first and can check online to see where it was roasted and learn more about the blend.

The last thing I liked was Rok Kitchen Tools’ Espresso Maker. If you haven’t noticed, there has been an increase in at-home coffee machines lately that claim to make artisan coffees from little pods and tastes ‘just like the cafe’. It’s a cool idea, but I’ve yet to find one that actually accomplishes that. I thought Rok’s tool was really fun, because you get to play barista and be hands on, but it’s really straight forward and produces a great shot of espresso. Plus, you can use coffee beans from wherever you like. It requires no electricity other than to boil your water or heat your milk and even comes with a milk frother. Look at the video below to see how it works.

There were also endless educational talks and demonstrations offered throughout the festival, including a Lindt chocolate and coffee pairing. I’m sure everyone wanted to volunteer for that one. They even had parties, coffee-inspired cocktails and live music performances throughout the festival. Coffee martini anyone?

The only problem with going to any festival of experts in a certain area, especially one as hip as coffee, is that some of the people can be quite pretentious. It was rare, but it was definitely there.

Overall I had such a good time and the value of samples, advice and coffee was worth much more than the prices of admission. I can’t encourage travelers enough to visit one of these shows no matter what the focus. They’re so much fun, a great learning experience and include some really interesting products. The Coffee Festival was especially good, but you can’t really go wrong with good coffee though can you?

The London Coffee Festival granted me press admission to cover this event.

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The Black Cat Cabaret London (Review)

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, The Arts and Cabaret

The Black Cat Cabaret London (Review)

No Comments 25 April 2013

What makes a good cabaret?

Is it the sex appeal of the performers, their acrobatic or dance ability? Is it the costumes and personality the people on stage? Or does the venue and crowd set it apart from every other show in town?

The Black Cat Cabaret’s answer to this: all of the above.

With acts ranging from a jump-roping tap dancer to a fire-breathing goddess, and a bold and hilarious MC to bring it all together, this is truly a cabaret that will entertain everyone.

Missy Macabre performs her pyro act at The Black Cat Cabaret. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

In a city that has endless cabaret options, maybe The Black Cat got it right by basing their show on the original. The first modern cabaret opened in 1881 in Montmartre Paris, France called Le Chat Noir, which translates of course to ‘the black cat’. The show featured a variety of performances to indulge the Bohemian society of its time.

Dusty Limits, Black Cat’s presenter and one of its creators, explains the show’s history quickly at the start of the night. Dawning a feathered blazer and paling make up, he spends the rest of the night getting the audience involved (even sitting on a few laps), singing, dancing and having everyone in stitches with his quick comebacks and perfectly-timed jokes.

Dusty Limits kicks off The Black Cat Cabaret. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Throughout the two-hour show, Dusty introduces over ten acts. It’s hard to pick a favorite at a show like this, where everyone is amazing for different reasons. Jesse Love’s jump-rope, tap dance routine was adorable, but the Cabaret Rouge trio really made me feel like I was in a club in Paris rather than London with their can-can performance and menage a trois, interpretive dance. I usually enjoy aerial-hoop performances like Bret Pfister’s and pyro acts like Missy Macabre’s the most, but I didn’t want the hilarious Eastend Cabaret duo to end either.

Cabaret Rouge in the middle of their three-some dance routine. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Bret Pfister stuns people from above. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Made up of an accordion-playing, she-man and spotlight-stealing sphinx, Eastend Cabaret had the audience roaring as the wandered through it and sang a song on stage with the refrain, “It was still hard.”. I’ll left you interpret that one.

Eastend Cabaret competes for the spotlight. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The duo point and yell “pretentious stalker” at an audience member. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Every act is memorable for a different reason and unique to the core. On top of an original performance, their choice of music was always carried out by Michael Roulston; the show’s piano player on the side of the stage, their own instruments (including a musical saw) or other means. But no matter the song, they always stick to the time period of cabaret’s origins, even turning Beyonce’s hip hop “Crazy in Love” into a fast-paced 1900’s hit version of the song.

While the show would be good just about anywhere, the venue for The Black Cabaret plays a leading role as well.

Champagne comes with sparklers at Cafe de Paris. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It takes place in Cafe de Paris’s Titanic Room. The French-inspired club is an obvious fit for a show of Parisian origins. Walking into this famous London club, you’re actually on the upper level. Once going through a dimly-lit hallway with red decor, the club opens up in a sort of theater in the round way. The cheap seats (£12-15), at the upper level, line a balcony looking down to a small stage with Cafe de Paris in gold across the top. Two grand staircases line the stage and lead people to a dining area with massive circular tables and crisp white cloths. To sit in this area during the show you must pay for a two or three course dinner (£47.50-52.50). The VIP three-course dinner is £75.00.

The performers make use of every area Cafe de Paris has to offer them. They parade around the top level at the start of the show. They descend to the stage on open staircases. They sing from a small balcony just above the stage. And of course, they wander through the audience throughout the night.

Sammy Dinneen makes handstands look sexy. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Overall, it’s everything you would expect of a cabaret in perfect proportion: excess.

The resurgence of cabaret in modern times has allowed for different spins on an old show, but there’s a reason that old show has come to popularity again. People want to see what the Bohemians were partying about, why cabaret was so entertaining and to have a little escape from the current state of the world. The Black Cabaret does just that, presenting cabaret exactly as it was intended.

See The Black Cat Cabaret every Friday at Cafe de Paris. Doors open at 7pm and show starts at 8:30pm. If you’re purchasing general admission, arrive early as seats are first come, first serve and it’s very hard to see from certain spots. The show is known to sell out, especially dinner options, so book in advance.

The Black Cat Cabaret granted me press admission to cover this show.

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Party like it’s ‘la belle epoque’ in London

Destinations, England, Favorite Things, The Arts and Cabaret

Party like it’s ‘la belle epoque’ in London

3 Comments 23 April 2013

La Belle Epoque or “The Beautiful Era” was a period in French history, between the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1871) and outbreak of World War I (1914).  During this period, world fairs were opening, music, art and theater were thriving, people were prosperous and happy.

It was one of those times we all refer to as the ‘good ol’ days’. An era many wish they could be apart of and a party life that would be hard to recreate, until now.

Belle Epoque Circus Party aims to take the people of London away to another place and time at their celebrations happening once every couple of months in locations around the city. (The next is June 15 at Bloomsbury Ballroom.)

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I attended their April 13th Belle Epoque Party at the Village Underground in Shoreditch. I’ve been to themed parties in the past, but none ever this detailed and dedicated to accuracy. Belle Epoque is not just another night out, it’s an experience and everyone gets involved.

The present disappeared as I walked into the Village Underground and guests walking in with me shed their coats to reveal bustiers, bow ties and thigh-high stockings. Part of the reason this party works so well is because the people who attend are so into it.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

If you feel a bit under-dressed or out of place, the party has makeup artists on site doing complimentary vintage make overs. Lauren of The Beauty Queens added some sparkle around my eyes to go with my look. After putting on my best turn-of-the-20th-century face, it was time to get into the right mindset. The bar at Belle Epoque sells time-inspired cocktails, like The Gatsby, for about £8 each.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Red drink in hand, red skirt above, the first acrobat to perform during the night took to the middle of the dance floor at 9:30pm. Slinging herself back and fourth on a rope, the crowd stopped their dancing for a few minutes, all eyes gazing to the sky.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

This area and part of the Belle Epoque party is definitely its biggest draw. An open dance floor at ground level, the limits set by a balcony above it where onlookers have the chance to take in the party completely. At one point, I looked from above at the crowd below who could’ve been dancing to “Tha-Ma-Ra-Boum-Di-He” by Polaire , rather than “You’ve got the love,” by Florence and the Machine, which the DJ on stage was spinning at the moment. I’ve watched a lot of circus and cabaret shows in the past, but I’ve never felt so much apart of one.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Five more acrobats performed throughout the night, which went on until 2am. The party succeeds so well in taking people away, that you feel sort of nervous to leave. It almost feels like coming home from an exotic holiday.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The next Belle Epoque party will be on Saturday, June 15 at Bloomsbury Ballroom. You can purchase tickets, which cost £20 each, online. The whole point of the party is to follow the theme of the night, so wear your best time-inspired get up, but at least get dressed up. They take the dress code very seriously, Ric was turned away for wearing sneakers and jeans, and with good reason. The fact that everyone was involved and dressed to the nines is what makes this experience so special.

Belle Epoque granted me press admission to review this exhibit. All opinions are my own.

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Five new activities to add to your London itinerary

Destinations, England

Five new activities to add to your London itinerary

4 Comments 26 March 2013

We all know the usual London itinerary: Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe and Abbey Road if you care about Rock ‘n’ Roll. But in a city as large and historical as London, these items give only a glimpse of what the city has to offer.

One of London’s best qualities is its surprise factor. You never know what you’re going to find here when you lose yourself to the city. Even born and bred Londoners will admit that they often find alley ways full of shops they never knew about until stumbling upon it by accident. So in a city of endless things to offer, here are a few more activities you might not have known about, but should definitely add to the list of things to do on your next visit.

Churchill War Rooms

Considering how heavily bombed London was during World War II, it’s always good to see things that were unaffected by the war, especially the bunker that protected England’s prime minister at the time, Winston Churchill. Left just as they were the day the war ended, a trip down to the Cabinet War Rooms is a trip back in time.

On the self-guided tour, you’ll see where Churchill slept as well as one of his cigars, where him and his advisers discussed the war and set out plans for their attack and much more. The underground activity also has a museum dedicated to the prime minister’s life.

Where Churchill slept on late nights in the War Rooms during the war. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The Courtauld Gallery

A professor took me to this gallery while studying abroad in London in 2007 and I’ve been agonizing over finding it until I stumbled upon it recently. Located in the Somerset House, the Courtauld Gallery houses one of the best collections of Impressionist paintings I’ve seen in the world. Home to Van Gough’s Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear and religious paneling dating back to the 1300s, it’s an incredible spot for art lovers.

Ben Franklin’s House

Known as the first American embassy in London, Ben Franklin lived at what is now 36 Craven Street from 1757 to 1775, 18 very important years in US/English history.

The tour of this house is like no other I’ve been on before. It starts with a brief video about Franklin and his contributions to the world. Then an actress playing one of the house’s inhabitants greets the room and takes visitors on a tour of the hose. The rooms are bare, besides a few objects, but between the actress/guide, videos projected on the wall and sounds, visitors learn the story of Franklin’s time in England and how it came to an end.

Between an actress playing Polly, daughter to the owner of the house and friend to Franklin, and videos projected on the walls, visitors learn about Franklin’s time in London. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Museum of London

I’ve visited a lot of museums in London, mainly because I’m usually poor when I’m here and they’re free, and the Museum of London is my absolute favorite. Learn about the city’s origins, it’s Roman and medieval history and experience its more recent history. The museum is very hands on and even allows visitors to walk through London in previous times. Plus it’s free!

Holland Park

Don’t get me started on parks in this city. They’re the best in the world. Some are very well organized with rose gardens and fountains, others are wild, but all are well-maintained. Holland Park has a bit of everything, but the reason it’s on this list is because it has peacocks (look at banner photo). They just wander around the grounds and you’ll even see them on top of certain buildings in the gardens. Another great free thing to do in the city, on warm days of course. Plus, the park is home to Belvedere, one of Marco Pierre White’s restaurants.

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24 hours in London, England

24 hours, Destinations, England, Guides

24 hours in London, England

1 Comment 31 July 2012

The 2012 Olympics are well underway and if you’re in London for the big event chances are you’ll want to take some time away to check out local sights and culture. Unfortunately, attending an event as big as as the Olympics, not to mention staying in an already expensive city during it, will leave visitors with very little spare change to spend on touring.

Not to worry. The city’s free activities and affordable food spots will allow you to have a full day of exploring for under £50. So when you have a day off between women’s skeet shooting and men’s artistic gymnastics, here’s how to see London on a budget.

8 a.m.

First things first, purchase a Day Anytime Travelcard for London’s extensive transportation system. At £8.40, this card will allow you to travel around zones 1 and 2 by Tube, bus and more. If you’re staying in the city and moving about for a longer period of time, look into their 7-day and monthly travel cards or even consider purchasing an Oyster Card. You can purchase cards online and at various tube stations.

Now that transportation is covered for the day, let’s get moving. First stop is the St. James’s Park Tube Station. You’ll exit at a roundabout, head left down Petty France toward Buckingham Gate (these are street names). At the very end of Petty France, on the right corner, you’ll see Bon Gusto, our first stop, a small cafe with blue awnings.

This Italian cafe serves Full English Breakfasts, a staple in any Brit’s diet, at £4.50, which is a great price for the meal anywhere in England, let alone one of its most tourist areas.

So what exactly is a Full English Breakfast?

Photo by JohnEWootton (Flikr)

Bacon, sausage, hash browns, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans, toast and fried eggs. While black pudding is the final ingredient to a full, Full English, you won’t find the pig’s blood delicacy included in every cafe’s breakfast. With or without the black pudding, it’s a hearty meal, perfect for a full day of sightseeing. The total for this meal along with a drink: £6

Total for the day: £14.40

9:30 AM

Whether rolling away or walking, it might be a good idea to get just a little bit of exercise after such a massive breakfast. After your meal head over to St. James’s Park for a quick browse around.

If there’s one thing the English know how to do right, it’s parks, and with this one being pretty much in Queen Elizabeth’s front yard, minutes away from Buckingham Palace, you can bet it’ll be in top form. While an hour isn’t nearly enough time to explore this park to the fullest, here are a few spots to start with: The Blue Bridge, Pelicans (fed daily 2:30-3 p.m.) and Horseguards Parade.

Hyde Park is nearby, but a bit too far to reach in the time allowed. It’s well-worth a visit and a great way to spend a few hours in London in the Summer.

Total for the day: £14.40

To reach St. James’s Park from Bon Gusto, turn right on Buckingham Gate and another right on Birdcage Walk and you’ll see St. James’s Park to the left.

10:30 a.m.

Don’t get too lost in St. James’s Park as you’ll need to head back to Buckingham Palace for its famous Changing of the Guard.

The ceremony kicks off at 11:15/11:30 a.m., but it would be a good idea to arrive somewhat early to find a good viewing spot. This is one of London’s most notable activities. The event will give you time to check out one of the UK’s many castles and watch a royal tradition.

Who knows, maybe Liz will even give a wave from her window.

Note: Changing of the Guard does not happen every day, so check the link above to make sure it is scheduled the day you wish to visit Buckingham Palace.

Total for the day: £14.40

To reach Buckingham Palace from St. James’s Park just head down The Mall in the direction of the Palace. It’s hard to miss.

12 p.m.

After viewing one of the country’s most famous royal traditions, it’s time to take in its political and religious icons. Only a 15-minute walk from Buckingham Palace down Birdcage Walk and right on Abingdon Street is Westminster Abbey, Parliament and of course, Big Ben. (Fun fact: Big Ben is actually the name of the bell in the tower.) All these attractions are worth a proper visit and tour, but since we’re on a tight time and money budget, a walk around the area and a few photos will suffice.

Marked on this map is all the stops mentioned above in order from A to F.

1 p.m.

One thing you’ll notice about travel in London is that almost everything you do is a cultural, even public transit. Instead of taking the tube again, let’s grab one of England’s red double-decker buses and travel from London’s political Westminster to its old-world and artistic South Bank.

The route will be from where we left off in the Westminster area (ex. Westminster Station) to Borough Market. To avoid getting too technical now, we’ll leave planning of this route up to you on the day and hour you choose to take it. There are a few options available and you can always plan your journey online.

Photo by Danny McLaughlin (Flikr)

Borough Market is not only a great foodie experience, but a serious historical experience. A food market in the Borough area dates back as far as 1014. The current market location on Borough High Street near London Bridge has been there since the 13th Century.

It really feels like you’re visiting another century when walking through the packed market. Traders from all over go there to sell an array of goodies from specialty meats to artisan breads. The market has so much to offer and the best thing about it: free samples! You could literally fill yourself with food just sampling the goods here, but the market also sells affordable food and drinks.

The only drawback is that this place isn’t 24 hours. Closed on Sundays, only open for lunch Monday to Wednesday and offering the full market Thursday to Saturday. Check their website before visiting for updates times and events.

You could spend your whole day as well as all your money here. But since time and money are of the essence, we’re going to say £10 is enough for a decent lunch in the area, whether you buy a savory pie and coffee or a baguette and dips.

Total for the day: £24

2:30 p.m.

South Bank offers two parallels in arts and entertainment. Dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries people can learn about one of the country’s greatest writers by visiting Shakespeare’s Globe. Not far away, people can view some of the country’s most recent treasured masterpieces at the Tate Modern.

While this is a reconstructed version of Shakespeare’s Globe, the real one was located nearby and you can see an outline of its layout there, it will give you an idea of what it was like to be in London during the English Renaissance. The theater is still very active. It features several Shakespearean plays a year as well as tours. Unfortunately, both these things are costly so a quick look around is all for now.

Photo of the Globe by Stephskimo (Flikr)

However, our next stop, Tate Modern, is free. The museum features modern and contemporary art from 1900 to today, including works by Damien Hirst, Salvador Dali and Henri Matisse. Plus, the gallery is always featuring new, exciting and even playful exhibitions. This massive building once hosted three massive silver slides by Carsten Holler, as high as 5 story’s. Now that’s art I think everyone will enjoy. Check their website before visiting to find out what’s on now, or just be surprised upon arrival.

If the modern and contemporary art isn’t your cup of tea, the city has a plethora of museums to visit, most of which are free to enter.

To reach the Shakespeare’s Globe from Borough Market (Southwark/Borough High Street), head northwest on Bedale Street, this becomes Cathedral Street (slight right) and than Winchester Square (slight left). Turn right toward Clink Street and left onto Clink Street. Turn right onto Bank End which becomes Bankside with a left at the Thames. Continue straight until you reach the theater on your left.

Tate Modern is pretty much next door. Continue on Bankside to The Queen’s Walk and you’ll see the museum located in an old power station to the left.

The route from Borough Market to Shakespeare’s Globe. Tate Modern is next door.

Total for the day: £24

4:30 p.m.

Complete your tour of South Bank with a stroll across the Tower Bridge. You might want to call it London Bridge, but the one we’re looking for is called Tower Bridge. Built in 1894, this is the city’s most symbolic bridge, which will feature the five-colored rings on it throughout the Olympic games. While walking across check out the Thames even have a look at the Tower of London when you reach the other side.

Check out this tour by London Toolkit. For this section of our tour take the route from marker 14 (Tate Modern) to the Tower Hill Tube Station.

The walk above provided by London Toolkit offers the most scenic route which will keep you along the Thames as much as possible. Follow markers 14 (Tate Modern) to Tower Hill Station across the Thames. From Tower Hill take the Tube back to your accommodation for a quick rest and shower to get ready for the night.

7 p.m.

While there is much debate over what is England’s national dish these days, chicken tikka masala is definitely a national favorite. For this reason, instead of heading to a chippy for fish and chips or a pub for bangers and mash (you’ll have plenty of chances to do both while in London), you’ll be heading to Brick Lane for curry.

While so much of London is idyllically British, these days the city offers strong influences from all over the world, including Asia. You can sample an array of curries here and for a bargain, literally. Shop workers stand outside their restaurants throwing out deals to passer-bys.

“Free poppadoms.”

“I’ll throw in a bottle of wine.”

Test your haggling skills before sitting down for a serious feast.

We’re going to recommend spending about £20 here for food and drink, maybe less. Regardless, you’ll have enough for a pint at a bar on Brick Lane or at one of the many pubs you passed by during this day of touring London. No recommendations for this item on the agenda. London has plenty of pubs to offer. Whether it be the classic pub look or people singing inside, one is sure to lure you in.

To reach Brick Lane in East London, take the tube to Aldgate East Station. Exit on Whitechapel High Street and head northeast toward Commercial Street. Take a right at Osborn Street, which turns into Brick Lane.

Hope you enjoyed this one-day tour of London. Note that this is only scratching the surface of the British city. There is so much left to see, taste and drink, of course. You might have to stay much longer than just the Olympics.

This photo of Tower Bridge decorated for the 2012 Olympics is by roger.w800 (Flikr)

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