Tuesday, November 22, 2011


For the past years we’ve been visiting London in November. There’s something comforting about the chill of its dampness mixed with its anticipation of festivity that appeals. The windows of Harrods http://www.harrods.com/ epitomise the season and are always dressed thematically.  In the present miserable economic climate, there’s something joyous about walking around the dozen or so of them admiring the blatant consumerism they portray. This year they’re even more lavish than usual, bursting with Swarovski laden images.

As always we stay in the Rembrandt Hotel www.sarova.com/rembrandt. I recommend to upgrade to an executive room; otherwise the bedroom accommodation can be very spare. Nice lounge area with loads of newspapers, fresh fruit on tap and great snacks. The hotel is handily sited about 7 minutes walk from the tube from Heathrow Airport to Kensington, and is opposite the Victoria & Albert Museum http://www.vam.ac.uk/ . The nice girl on the help desk helps me track down one of Irish designer Eileen Gray’s www.patriciaoreilly.net/eileengray lacquer screens in Room 74 on the Third Floor.

On our first evening we eat in The Good Earth on Brompton Road - superb traditional Chinese food. Set menu around £40. As the weather is gloriously and unseasonably warm, next morning we take an open top bus tour of London – The Original Tour http://www.theoriginaltour.com/, operating for more than 60 years, with language commentaries and live guides – very helpful too, they are. The buses stop at various points throughout the city and it’s a hop on hop off service, the price of £22 covering two days plus a cruise along the Thames as far as Greenwich. Landmarks from the river include the OXO building, famous because of the way it got around the ban on advertising; Shakespeare’s reconstructed theatre; the squat shape of the Gerkin. London Eye (huge and scary), and the Shard, most impressive of all in its gleaming facade, though still under construction.

The Classic Spectacular playing at the Albert Hall http://www.royalalberthall.com/  is our event of the trip, and it doesn’t disappoint. The mainly British audience who appear ultra-conservative give a new meaning to rampant patriotism as they sing and wave the Union Jacks flags that come with the programmes. I particularly enjoyed Grieg’s Morning from Peer Gynt, and the fun of the Can Can performed by the dancers with gusto along the aisles.

Saturday afternoon the streets are packed with shoppers. That evening we eat in the calm peace of Brown’s Hotel www.brownshotel.com. Opened in 1937, it is London’s first hotel, where Kipling wrote ‘The Jungle Book’, where author Agatha Christie hid out and from where Alexander Graham Bell made the first telephone call. The award winning HIX restaurant’s a la carte menu specialises in game, great wines and an English cheese board – understated English luxury all the way, though a far from understated bill!

All in all a good few days - forgetting the three-hour delay in Heathrow on the way back due to fog, but full marks to Aer Lingus for constantl updates as we queued, food vouchers and delightful stewardesses on the return journey.

Friday, November 4, 2011



This year is the 60th anniversary of Wexford’ Festival Opera http://www.wexfordopera.com/. We’ve been going for several years. It’s nice to support our own. We’re quick to do operas in foreign cities – saw The Bartered Bride in Berlin recently and it was a battered production!

Hand on heart I have to say this year Wexford surpassed itself with superb productions. We saw two of the three main offerings. One of the delights of the operas performed in Wexford is that they have been rescued from obscurity. Maria by Roman Statkowski, set in Poland is a political love story done in modern costume and using multi media. It’s passionate, dour and it works magically. La Coeur de Célimène by Ambroise Thomas, first performed in 1855, is French and frothily delicious with glorious costumes. Surprisingly given its brilliant writing, witty dialogues and well-crafted ensembles, it faded into obscurity – some say because of the way it portrays women’s attitudes to men.

As always we stayed and dined in the excellent White’s Hotel http://www.whitesofwexford.ie/: it’s comfortable, with a great spa and swimming pool, central to shops, the opera house and within an easy walk of the harbour. As well as which Whites is host to several of the many other recitals and performances that take place throughout the festival, and has comprehensive art works in the lobby and first floor.

I enjoy shopping when I’m on holiday. Of old and suffering from problem feet, I know of Shoe Style International (http://www.shoestyleinternational.com/) and am a fan of their Hispanitas brand, as much as the staff who bend over backwards to help and ensure comfort. I discovered The Silk Connection, brainchild of Betty Maher-Caulfield (http://www.thesilkconnection,net/) who has turned her passion for travel into a business. From the Far East she’s handpicked pure silk blouses, jackets, underwear and bedding.

On offer in 2012 Le Roi Malgre Lui by Emanuel Chabrier; A Village Romeo and Juliet by Frederick Delius and Francesca de Rimini by Saverio Mercadante.